Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) has a familiar “thumbs-up” icon that users click on to show their support for, or “like” a particular post, photo or comment from a friend or on a “fan” page. But apparently there has been a question as to whether a mouse click on an icon is considered free speech and thus requires protection under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Apparently the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) agrees with the stance of Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB), as the question has come up in court, and the ACLU is involved. The case surrounds Daniel Carter, a former deputy sheriff in Hampton, Va. He is a “former” deputy because he was fired from his job by his boss because his boss, who was running for re-election, found out that Carter had clicked “like” on a post by the sheriff’s election opponent. Carter has claimed his act to click “like” is protected speech under the First Amendment.
The case in in the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a lower court ruled that a “like” is not protected speech because it does not contain “actual statements.” However, for this appeal round, both Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) and the ACLU have filed briefs supporting Carter’s side of the case, equating a click of “like” on Facebook to be “analogous to other forms of speech, such as putting a button on your shirt with a candidate’s name on it,” said Rebecca Glenberg, legal director of the ACLU of Virginia.
This is not the first case of “like” being in the middle of a free-speech controversy – it’s just the latest. Other cases before involve a Marine sergeant who was scheduled to be discharged for posting critical remarks about President Obama on his own Facebook page, and a case in New York where the National Labor Relations Board ruled that a non-profit illegally fired five workers after criticizing a colleague on Facebook.
Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) likely has a decent-sized stake in this case, as its reputation may be on the line, as well as its bottom line. With nearly 3 billion “likes” and comments registered every day on Facebook, having such likes and comments not be protected speech would likely truncate activity on the social-media site, if not chill out users from accessing the site altogether. Perhaps for Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB), this isn’t just about free speech.