Several months ago, a Virginia judge ruled against a deputy sheriff who said he was fired for Facebook “liking” his boss’ election opponent. The judge in the case declared that clicking a “like” button does not constitute “speech,” as nothing was actually spoken.
Plaintiff Daniel Ray Carter appealed the ruling. And now, Facebook is supporting the once deputy sheriff by way of an amicus brief arguing that a “like” is the 21st century version of a political bumper sticker.
Main points from the Facebook brief:
- When a user likes something on Facebook, a picture of the “liked” thing, and usually some accompanying text, appear on the user’s profile. As such, when Carter liked Adams’ Facebook page, the words “Jim Adams for Hampton Sheriff” and a picture of Jim appeared on Carter’s page – much like a “vote for” lawn sign. Conversely, Carter’s name and photo appeared on the campaign’s Facebook page in a list of people who supported Adams, further proving that he was a political supporter of the sheriff’s opponent.
- Symbolic speech, like arm bands and flag burning, are considered free speech; therefore, Facebook “likes” should also qualify.
- “If Carter had stood on a street corner and announced, ‘I like Jim Adams for Hampton Sheriff,’ there would be no dispute that his statement was constitutionally protected speech.”
Also, deposed co-workers said they knew Carter would be “out of there” when news broke of his support for Adams.
Facebook’s brief is comprehensive and includes lots of supporting case law, from Givhan v. Western Line Consol School District (1979) to Adams v. Trustee of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington (2011). The social media company’s argument is cogent and most likely will go a long way in getting the current ruling over turned.
In addition to Facebook, The American Civil Liberties Union also filed a brief in support of Carter.
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