Posted by Laury Lucien at 11:00 AM
In an era where large quantities of interactions take place on the Internet, the scope of the protection provided by the First Amendment is often unclear. On September 18, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit extended the First Amendment protection of speech to Facebook’s “like” button in the Bland v. Roberts case.
This case arose in 2009, when employees at the Hampton Sheriff’s Office in Virginia lost their jobs by expressing their support for their boss’s opponent in an election for Sheriff by using the Facebook “like” button, and commenting on the opponent’s Facebook page. The employees filed suit in the Federal District Court against the Sheriff alleging that the Sheriff violated their First Amendment right “to free association when he refused to reappoint them based on their lack of political allegiance to him in the 2009 election.” The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Sheriff concluding that merely ‘liking’ a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection.” The employees appealed, and the case went before the Fourth Circuit.
On appeal, the Circuit Court concluded that clicking on the like button is “itself a substantive statement,” and that regardless of whether the statement is made by clicking on a like button or using “several individual strokes” to make the statement is “of no constitutional significance.”
The First Amendment has had to adapt to rapid technological advances in communication. As innovation progresses, the breadth of the First Amendment will consistently be revealed, and in this instance, it has revealed that it covers the “like” button. Here, the Fourth Circuit made the right decision. There is no difference between clicking a “like” button, which publishes to the individual’s Facebook community that this individual likes a particular thing, and physically saying that you like something. Ultimately, the sentiment is transmitted, and those who see it understand the expression. Although, the plaintiffs in this case did not receive any damages, the American people have one a major victory in that the law is keeping pace with the technological requirements of our day.