Our right to free speech doesn't just protect the words that physically come out of our mouths. It even extends to your Facebook Likes. According to a recent court case, those little clicks of a button are also protected by the First Amendment.
The situation started back in 2009 when workers at the sheriff's office in Hampton, Virginia, decided to support sheriff candidate Jim Adams by Liking his campaign's Facebook page. Adams was running against their boss, Sheriff B.J. Roberts.
After Sheriff Roberts defeated Adams and was reelected, he dismissed Bobby Bland and others who had supported Adams, citing their effect on "the harmony and efficiency of the office." Bland challenged the dismissal in court, claiming that his Likes were protected by the First Amendment, but a U.S. District Court judge disagreed.
Yesterday, however, that decision was overturned. A federal appeals court ruled that a Facebook Like is, indeed, a form of expression that is covered by the First Amendment. Clicking a button is, per the decision, a protected form of speech.
In the original ruling, the court ruled that, unlike a post, a Like is not an actual statement, so it is not protected by the First Amendment.
The appeals court's decision reverses that, widening the definition of speech to include, yep, the click of a button. Simple signals of intention and reaction -- the most individually uncreative forms of expression imaginable -- are now enshrined as constitutionally protected conduits of self-expression.
This decision is good news for every Facebook user out there, because it means you are protected from unlawful retaliation that may arise after you express your opinion on Facebook using Likes. It also proves just how smart our Founding Fathers were when they drafted the Bill of Rights.
Its authors acknowledged their own ignorance. They knew they couldn't anticipate the telegraph or the telephone or the Internet, so they inscribed their protections in a way that would accommodate an unknown future. They could not anticipate Facebook; in another way, though, they totally anticipated Facebook. Which is certainly something to Like.