TMCnet Feature Free eNews Subscription
May 04, 2012

Facebook's 'Like' is Not Protected by the First Amendment

By Julie Griffin, Contributing Writer

After two deputies in Hampton, Virginia, “liked” their boss’s opponent on Facebook (News - Alert), they were immediately fired after their boss won the reelection for sheriff. This matter was taken to court, and a federal judge declared that “liking” something on Facebook is not protected by the First Amendment. Some social media experts and journalists are outraged over this ruling, believing that “liking” something on Facebook is the same as any other form of expression protected by the First Amendment, like a bumper sticker or an armband.

Among the U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson’s explanations for why he ruled as he did, was that although there are circumstances that the First Amendment protects statements that were made on Facebook, these were actual statements. “[Liking] is not the kind of substantive statement that has previously warranted constitutional protection,” the judge added.

One legal expert in particular, Eugene Volokh of UCLA, told sources that the judge’s ruling was incorrect because the First Amendment also shields non-verbal statements such as wearing a swastika. Similarly, journalist and professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University, Marcus Messner stated, "Going to a candidate's Facebook page and liking it in my view is a political statement. It's not a very deep one, but you're making a statement when you like a person's Facebook page."

Facebook has definitely served as a medium for political discussion involving First Amendment rights. A federal legislation called the Social Networking Online Privacy Act (SNOPA) was designed to protect the privacy of people’s Facebook information from employers and educational institutions. The ACLU took issue with circumstances where Facebook profiles were used against individuals for hiring and enrollment purposes. New York Congressman, Eliot Engel, the proponent for SNOPA has stated, “We have to draw a line between what is publicly available information, and what is personal, private content.”

Regardless of SNOPA or the judges’ ruling in the case of the two Virginia deputies, First Amendment rights and how they affect social media, is bound to be a contentious topic for some time to come. The same experts that have voice their concerns over the ruling in the case of the deputies believe that there are definitely some grounds for appeal, so it’s doubtful that this will be the last we hear of this case. Don Herzog, professor at the University of Michigan stated, “This is one of the ways we talk about politics in our society."

Edited by Brooke Neuman
» More TMCnet Feature Articles
Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox. [Free eNews Subscription]


» More TMCnet Feature Articles