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Court: Facebook Likes Are Protected Speech

Court: Facebook Likes Are Protected Speech
Image credit: AP

Thanks to a federal appeals court ruling in Virginia, anything you Like on Facebook can't and won't be used against you -- in a court of law or anywhere else.

Facebook Likes are substantive speech, and therefore protected under the First Amendment, wrote U.S. Circuit Judge William Traxler.

You may be wondering how this issue ended up before a court in the first place. Former sheriff's deputies in Virginia brought a lawsuit against their old boss, claiming he had fired them because they had liked the Facebook campaign page of his opponent in the upcoming election. The appeals court reversed the decision of a lower court in Virginia that one-click actions such as Likes, as opposed to status updates and posted comments, are not speech and therefore not protected.

Related: 3 Bad Mistakes Good People Make on Facebook

But if the Facebook Like is protected speech because it ostensibly communicates "the user's approval…and support" of the person, status or thing liked, as Traxler wrote, then what of liking things sarcastically or in jest, or – to use an example from another social network – of "hate-favoriting" on Twitter?

While it may be true that in the context of a politician's Facebook page, "the meaning that the user approves of the candidacy whose page is being liked is unmistakable," as Traxler said, the meaning of social-media actions is not always so straightforward.

Do you think liking, favoriting and similar social-media actions should be protected speech? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments section below.
 

Brian Patrick Eha is a freelance journalist and former assistant editor at Entrepreneur.com. He is writing a book about the global phenomenon of Bitcoin for Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It will be published in 2015.

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