Facebook’s ‘Like’ faces free-speech test in Richmond courtroom

Posted at 10:32 PM, May 16, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-17 00:04:40-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)—A Facebook case being heard in Richmond could affect the rest of the nation.

Facebook's “Like” button gets clicked more than three billion times each day, according to the social media site's administrators.

That hasty and seemingly harmless act is now at the center of a case being heard in the U.S Court of appeals for the Fourth Circuit in downtown Richmond.

Six former employees at the Hampton, Virginia sheriff's department claim they were fired by Sheriff B.J. Roberts for clicking the like button on his opponent's page during a 2009 election.

According to court documents obtained by CBS 6, Facebook has taken side with the fired employees.

Thursday, a lawyer representing the social media site told a panel of judges that clicking the “Like” button should be considered free speech, and said the employees were simply expressing themselves.

Facebook is helping the former employees get their previous case in a lower-court overturned.

Last year, the case was heard before a U.S. district court judge in Norfolk, but it was thrown out. The judge said that protections of free-speech couldn't be applied to this case, or to Facebook “Likes,” because the fired employees didn't actually speak, or type something up to interpret; therefore there was no speech to protect.

The judge went on to say, basing the argument off a single click of the “Like”  button is insufficient.

However, in Thursday’s case, one of the judges disagreed with that former ruling, comparing the “Like” button to a campaign yard sign, which is considered protected speech.

Today, both sides were given 20-minutes each to state their case. However, no decision was made. It typically takes the panel of judges’ months to hand down a ruling.

CBS 6 news will continue to follow this court case and let you know when there's a decision.