A former sheriff’s deputy in Hampton, Virginia is challenging whether Facebook’s “like” button should be protected under the First Amendment.
While working under Sheriff BJ Roberts as a sheriff’s deputy in 2009, Daniel Ray Carter Jr. clicked the “like” button for the Facebook page of Roberts’s opponent, indicating his support in an upcoming election.
He was promptly fired for his insubordination, along with five other department employees who had “liked” Roberts’s opponent’s page.
Carter initially sued, saying his use of the “like” button should have been protected under his free speech rights, and that he was fired illegally.
A U.S. District Court judge sided with Sheriff Roberts in the case, saying that Carter’s “liking” the opponent’s page wasn’t actually a form of speech and not substantial enough to be protected under the First Amendment. “Liking a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection,” he ruled, according to CNN.
Now Carter is appealing the ruling in appeals court, and both the ACLU and Facebook itself have weighed in on his behalf.
Facbeook’s legal team filed a brief saying, “liking” a political page is “the 21st-century equivalent of a front-yard campaign sign.”
It’s widely suspected that Carter’s appeal will be successful and the US Court of Appeals will recognize the Facebook “like” as an expression of free speech. Of course, what exactly that speech is saying can be unclear and has been long been the subject of much philosophizing—if you “liked” a news story announcing that Whitney Houston had died, did you like that she was dead?
Also, it is possible to say things in real life that will get you fired. Calling your boss an “incompetent twit who needs to get his head out of his ass” could definitely get you fired, regardless of your First Amendment rights. Was the deputy “liking” his boss’s opponent’s page a digital equivalent?
Who knows. Like all human communications, it seems messy and problematic. Looks like Zuckerberg’s vision—to put your entire life online—is coming along swimmingly.