Your First Amendment rights are probably the last thing you think about when you click the Like button on Facebook.
But just in case you were wondering, that innocent little blue thumbs-up logo is not constitutionally protected free speech. At least, not according to a district court judge in Virginia, who was the first to decide such a question in federal court.
[More from Mashable: Angry Birds Fans Can Now Play on Facebook Timeline]
The case before Judge Raymond Jackson was this: a local sheriff had fired six of his employees, some because their actions "hindered the harmony and efficiency of the office," according to the New York Times. One of those employees, it turned out, had clicked the Like button on the page of the sheriff's political opponent.
That may sound like a firing offense. But here's the tricky part -- not if the Like button counts as free speech. Public employees in Virginia are free to speak out on political matters, even if that means supporting the guy who wants to replace your boss.
[More from Mashable: Here’s the Best Time to Share on Pinterest]
So Jackson threaded the needle this way: He said the Like button isn't the same as expressing yourself verbally. It's not free speech, in other words. It's just clicking a button.
"Simply liking a Facebook page is insufficient," the judge wrote. "It is not the kind of substantive statement that has previously warranted constitutional protection ... For the Court to assume that the Plaintiffs made some specific statement without evidence of such statements is improper."
That had some legal analysts raising their eyebrows. “It is conveying a message to others,” UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh told the Times. “It may just involve just a mouse click, but a major point of that mouse click is to inform others that you like whatever that means.”
The ruling is expected to be appealed, and it's not outside the bounds of reason that the Supreme Court could soon consider the meaning of that little blue thumbs up.
Do you think a Like is protected speech? Should you be fired for liking the wrong thing? Let us know your take in the comments.
This story originally published on Mashable here.
- Politics & Government