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article imageJudge rules 'Like' button not protected under First Amendment

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By Leigh Goessl     May 8, 2012 in Internet
Norfolk - A U.S. judge has recently ruled Facebook's popular 'Like' button is not protected under the First Amendment as a form of expression.
The social integration of Facebook has changed the dynamics of society in many ways. From refining what a "friend" is, to privacy issues, its impact on social skills and almost everything in between, Facebook's reach has had a profound effect on many key factors in life.
Now there is one more issue to add a new notch to the proverbial belt. This one is related to the social network giant's popular "Like" button and how it fits into freedom of speech.
An interesting case has been transpiring in Norfolk, Va. Six employees are suing their former employer saying their First Amendment rights were violated. The group of people have been battling it out in court, saying they were fired over hitting Facebook's "Like" button.
According to The Atlantic, the situation began in 2009 during an election season. The employees were working for the Hampton Sheriff's office under B.J. Roberts, who was running for reelection at the time against opponent Jim Adams.
Roberts won the election, and he subsequently fired several employees after he allegedly saw his employees had hit the "Like" button on his opponent's Facebook page.
For the firing, Roberts gave budgeting needs and poor performance as reasons, and also inferred the employees impacted "the harmony and efficiency of the office."
The employees viewed it differently and took their issue to court, citing their First Amendment rights.
On Apr. 24 a verdict was reached and it was found the rights of the former employees were not violated. U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson ruled that clicking "Like" on a Web page "does not amount to expressive speech," reported the New York Daily News.
The reason was described as hitting a button is not the same thing as writing or typing out a statement, as a "Like" is not an expression as the other two forms of expression would be considered. Posting statements on Facebook have previously been ruled as protected under First Amendment, such as it was in the cases of Katherine Evans vs. Peter Bayer and NLRB vs. American Medical Response.
Several media reports note the "murky" area in this verdict and the case is likely to go to a higher court in an appeal. At least one of the attorneys said he would appeal.
Marcus Messner, a journalism and mass communications professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who specializes in social media, said, "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, and other social media, have without a doubt impacted how people both communicate and express themselves, and as it evolves, many expressions are short and to the point. The "Like" button many people use in lieu of taking the time to create a post.
“It [the "Like" button] is for sure a thin statement, but it is clearly within what we do all the time as democratic citizens,” Don Herzog, a law professor at the University of Michigan said, reported the Daily News. “This is one of the ways we talk about politics in our society.”
Generally, aside from issues associated with constitutional law, the pace of technology moves progressively fast, and the law is not always as quick to adapt. Facebook's highly-used "Like" button, however, is the latest in deliberations on exactly how forms of expression fit into the line of the law.
"It's a somewhat odd decision that a Facebook "Like" is not protected speech," Jeff Hermes, director of the Digital Media Law Project, Berkman Center for Internet & Society told MSNBC. "The judge was essentially devaluing the 'Like' as speech because of how simple it is to do."
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