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Facebook Wants Likes to be Protected Free Speech

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The First Amendment is getting another legal workout, this time for its role in social network platform Facebook. 

If a user clicks 'Like' on something, it should be deemed protected free speech -- just like standing on a street corner and declaring something in public, according to Facebook.

FB has filed a brief in a Virginia case where a sheriff's deputy 'liked' his boss' political opponent's page. His boss later fired him. The deputy, Daniel Ray Carter, sued, saying that his 'like' was protected by the First Amendment.

The judge in the case didn't see it that way, saying "that merely liking a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection," according to an excerpt posted on CNET.

Carter has appealed the ruling -- and that's when Facebook weighed in with an amicus brief: 

Contrary to the district court’s understanding, liking a Facebook page (or a non-Facebook website) is speech: It generates verbal statements and communicative imagery on the user’s profile (or timeline) page – i.e., a statement that the user likes a particular page, accompanied by the page’s icon – as well as similar statements and imagery in the news feeds of the user’s friends. In this case, by liking the Adams campaign’s page, Carter ensured that the slogan, “Jim Adams for Hampton Sheriff,” would appear alongside Adams’ photo on Carter’s Facebook profile … Carter also triggered an announcement on his friends’ news feeds and on the campaign’s page itself that he liked the campaign’s page. Any visitor to Carter’s profile would have been able to see the candidate’s photograph and campaign slogan. Carter’s use of Facebook to “convey his message” was “speech” within the meaning of the First Amendment.

[Click here to read the entire brief.]

As social networking continues to disrupt just about everything it touches -- much like the internet, in general -- the real-world social institutions, like courts, will have to address that what people do on these platforms is a way of communication (read speech) for people. A new language that will not only perist, but grow.

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