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Much-Maligned Facebook 'Like' Not Even Speech

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May’s now much debated “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” Atlantic Magazine cover story points out, among other things, that “liking” a post online has almost no effect on a person’s loneliness. To quote:  

If you use Facebook to communicate directly with other individuals—by using the “like” button, commenting on friends’ posts, and so on—it can increase your social capital… People who received composed communication became less lonely, while people who received one-click communication experienced no change in loneliness.

The article suggests writing friends a message saying, “I like this” rather than simply clicking a button. It’s the little things.

Already then-devalued from a sociological standpoint, the “like” recently took another major hit. According to a Federal District Court, the button click is not protected speech under the First Amendment, although other Facebook posts still are.

After being fired by Sheriff B.J. Roberts of Hampton, VA, six employees sued for wrongful discrimination and claimed that they had lost their jobs for supporting Robert’s opponent in an upcoming election, the Global Post reports. On his end, the Sheriff claims he fired the employees for poor performance and because he planned to replace some with sworn deputies.

The crux of the suit lay in one employee’s decision to “like” Hampton’s opponent on Facebook. This led the six employees to sue for a violation of their right to free speech.

Unfortunately, clicking a like button doesn’t constitute speech, at least not according to Judge Raymond Jackson. Since “liking” doesn’t technically involve saying anything, it is not, for the Judge, “expressive speech.”

The plaintiffs have already announced plans to appeal the ruling. The ACLU is also up in arms about the decision, claiming that: “The mere fact that you're pressing a button to express that view or opinion instead of saying those words doesn't make a difference."

Most observers think that a higher court will ultimately resolve the issue. In the very least, it makes clear once again just how nebulous the world of the Internet can be.

Until the ruling changes, however, it might be best to watch what you like.
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