A Virginia appellate court recently ruled that “Liking” on Facebook is protected as free speech under the first amendment.
The new ruling stems from a lower court case in which Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Ray Carter was fired for “Liking” the campaign page of his employer’s opponent in a race for re-election as sheriff.
Brian Fung of the Washington Post reported that the issue in question was whether or not Carter’s action in “Liking” a post on Facebook could be construed as speech and therefore protected under the first amendment.
The case caused national attention and controversy worldwide. The court viewed the “Like” button on Facebook as positive speech, hence the symbolic agreement. Some Facebook users would disagree, recognizing that “Liking” something on Facebook does not necessarily mean supporting a page or post, but simply engaging in the conversation or choosing to follow future commentary on the post.
Regardless, the case revolved around the question of whether Sheriff B.J. Roberts of Hampton Va. violated his employee’s right to free speech when he fired Carter.
In deciding that Carter’s right to free speech was violated, the court ruled that using the “Like” button on Facebook is protected under the first amendment, citing the 1994 case City of Ladue v. Gilleo, in which a political campaign sign was ruled as free speech because it was a symbolic expression of opinion.
What are the consequences?
Now reporters and individuals are questioning what this means for other electronic forms of communication like the share button, retweets or pins. Are these forms of symbolic expression, too?
From a legal perspective, this ruling can impact the concept of hearsay in court cases. The language from the court seems to specifically address the concept of hearsay – that a statement can be a symbolic representation of an opinion (shaking your head no is still hearsay even without saying anything).
As criminal defense and family law lawyers, this case could have an interesting impact on Arizona cases, especially family cases where parties research Facebook pages and internet searches for anything and everything they can use against one another.
Could your liking of craft beers or medical marijuana Facebook pages end up being allowed in court?
As we see it, that depends. On one hand, the court is saying that liking those pages actually communicates something (making it relevant) but on the other hand, the fact that the statement was made out of court makes it hearsay.
In family court, hearsay doesn’t automatically apply unless one of the parties files a motion with the court to follow the strict rules of evidence – a decision that the family law attorneys at Corso Law Group can help you make based on this decision.