The Facebook “Like” Button: Is It Protected Speech?

As some of readers, who have active facebook profiles know, the like button is a way to express your support for a cause or idea. However, a federal judge states that, clicking it doeos not constitute constitutionally protected speech.

For example, the employees of a local police department sued their boss (Sheriff B.J. Roberts) for firing them after they supported his opponent in his 2009 re-election campaign. One of those workers, Daniel Ray Carter, had “liked” the Facebook page of Roberts’ opponent, Jim Adams. Exactly what a “like” means – if anything is the main question. The ex-employees posit that their First Amendment rights were violated.

While public employees are allowed to speak as citizens on matters of public concern, the United States District Judge, the Honorable Raymond Jackson, ruled that clicking the “like” button does not amount to expressive speech. Express conduct, also referred to as “symbolic speech,” relates to the communication of ideas through one’s conduct. Expressive conduct raises some interesting constitutional questions because it combines expression, which typically receives First Amendment protection, and conduct, which typically does not receive First Amendment protection. This dualistic nature may account for the court’s position of affording expressive conduct some constitutional protection, but substantially less protection than pure speech.