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Clicking ‘like’ on Facebook

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By HL Hall

Clicking “like” on Facebook is not protected by the First Amendment, according to U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson’s April 30 ruling in Bland v. Roberts in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Virginia.

Deciding what clicking “like” means played a role in Jackson’s decision in a case involving six individuals who said Hampton Sheriff B. J. Roberts fired them for supporting an opponent in his 2009 re-election bid. The workers sued claiming heir First Amendment rights had been violated. At least one of the workers had “liked” the Facebook page of Jim Adams, Roberts’ opponent.

Judge Jackson said clicking “like” was not expressive speech since those clicking “like” are not actually writing a statement to be posted on Facebook. Jackson did acknowledge that other courts have ruled that the First Amendment protects Facebook posts, but he said in those cases the posts were actual messages, not just someone clicking “like.”

Jackson also said he did consider whether the employees clicking “like” was a reason for them being fired, but he said that became a moot point when he decided “liking” someone or something isn’t protected speech.

An attorney for one of the fired workers said he would likely appeal the ruling.

Does this ruling have any impact for student journalists and advisers?

Virginia is in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court, so it the ruling probably applies to all states (Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia) in that district. The decision could also be a precedent for decisions in other states. It might be wise for those in that circuit for the time being to assume that clicking “like” on Facebook is not constitutionally protected.

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