clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Facebook says 'Likes' fall under free speech, supports sheriff fired over political controversy

New, 33 comments

Facebook this week filed a briefing in support of a man fired from his deputy sheriff position after "Liking" a page on the social website.

Facebook like 560
Facebook like 560

Daniel Ray Carter is still awaiting his chance to appeal a court's ruling that says Facebook 'Likes' are not considered free speech protected under the Constitution, but he just gained a powerful ally: the social network at the core of the controversy. Facebook this week filed a briefing in support of Carter, who was fired from his deputy sheriff position after "Liking" a page supporting the man running against his boss.

"Liking a Facebook Page (or other website) is core speech"

The company "has a vital interest in ensuring that speech on Facebook and in other online communities is afforded the same constitutional protection as speech in newspapers, on television, and in the town square," according to the document. As part of the initial ruling, Judge Raymond Jackson found giving something the thumbs up on Facebook to be "insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection." Facebook vehemently disagrees with such a notion, describing the feature as "core speech" and slamming the court for "a misunderstanding of the nature of the communication at issue."

When Carter showed support for Jim Adams' sheriff bid, says Facebook, that gesture was visible to friends, family, and colleagues through both his news feed and the campaign's page. "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," says the company, which goes on to claim "likes" are essentially "the 21st-century equivalent of a front-yard campaign sign." Facebook hammers the point home by reiterating that simply because Carter made such a statement using its service should not deprive him of constitutional protections.

"The 21st-century equivalent of a front-yard campaign sign"

This case has the potential to set a major precedent when it comes to free speech and the social media hubs we all use daily. As such, it's nice to see Facebook — much like Twitter — making its stance on the topic unmistakably clear. We've laid out much of the key language here, but hit the source below to take a peek at the full briefing for yourself.