Daniel Ray Carter, a sheriff’s office employee in Virginia, filed a lawsuit after he was fired for liking the Facebook page of his employer’s competitor, and he gained some key support in court. Facebook filed a motion in the United States Court of Appeals, saying that likes should be protected by the First Amendment.
Carter — who was fired from Sheriff B.J. Roberts’ office in Hampton, Va., in 2009 — felt that his termination was unjust. He liked the page of his employer’s opponent in the 2009 election. Facebook then broadcast this activity through Carter’s friends’ news feeds. After word got to his superiors, Carter was fired. When he fought the case, U.S. District Court Judge Raymond Jackson declared that Facebook likes are not considered free speech.
It is the court’s conclusion that merely liking a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection. In cases where courts have found that constitutional speech protections extended to Facebook posts, actual statements existed in the record.
Carter has since appealed the ruling.
Facebook came out in support of Carter recently, arguing that if the employee had stood on a street corner saying, “I like Jim Adams for Hampton sheriff,” that action would be covered by the First Amendment. Clicking like on a page is essentially doing the same thing, Facebook claimed, and should be treated as such, the social network’s attorneys wrote in a brief:
Contrary to the district court’s understanding, liking a Facebook page (or a non-Facebook website) is speech: It generates verbal statements and communicative imagery on the user’s profile (or timeline) page – i.e., a statement that the user likes a particular page, accompanied by the page’s icon – as well as similar statements and imagery in the news feeds of the user’s friends. In this case, by liking the Adams campaign’s page, Carter ensured that the slogan, “Jim Adams for Hampton Sheriff,” would appear alongside Adams’ photo on Carter’s Facebook profile … Carter also triggered an announcement on his friends’ news feeds and on the campaign’s page itself that he liked the campaign’s page. Any visitor to Carter’s profile would have been able to see the candidate’s photograph and campaign slogan. Carter’s use of Facebook to “convey his message” was “speech” within the meaning of the First Amendment.
Readers: Do you think Facebook likes should be considered free speech?