Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/GettyImages.
What’s the difference between a campaign button and Facebook’s "Like" button? The First Amendment, according to one federal judge.
The ACLU filed an amicus brief this week in support of efforts to overturn an April ruling by a federal judge that hitting the thumbs-up button on Facebook isn’t a substantial enough statement to be protected by the U.S. Constitution.
The case begins with Daniel Ray Carter, a deputy sheriff in Hampton, Va., who was fired after "liking" the page of his boss’s opponent in the 2009 sheriff election. A federal judge tossed Carter's lawsuit out earlier this year, arguing that "merely 'liking' a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection." Carter and others who were fired appealed, and the case is currently under review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.
Cue the ACLU. Concerned that the ruling could set a precedent for other Web-based, mouse-click actions, the organization pointed out the power of a single "click" in its filings, including re-tweeting, donating to a campaign, or signing a petition. As new technologies emerge, it’s important "that the First Amendment is interpreted to protect those new ways of communication," the legal director of the ACLU of Virginia told the Washington Post. "Pressing a 'like' button is analogous to other forms of speech, such as putting a button on your shirt with a candidate’s name on it."
Facebook has also taken action against the lower court’s decision, the Wall Street Journal notes, arguing in its filings that hitting the "like" button is "core speech," and the "21st-century equivalent of a front-yard campaign sign." According to the company, some 3 billion "likes" and comments are registered every day.