Sunday, May 6, 2012

Liking the Constitution

When I “like” a page/person/business/group/event on Facebook, I am generally doing two things: I am choosing who I will speak to and hear from, and I am telling other people about it (thereby suggesting that they consider doing the same). I “like” my state representative on Facebook, for example, so that I can hear what issues are important to him, see what other local residents think about those issues, and participate in the conversation myself. I “like” an inn in Maine so that I can hear news from a vacation area I enjoy visiting. I “like” a local contractor so that I can discuss renovation mistakes they highlight along with a group of similarly minded homeowners. And I occasionally “like” a group or event simply as a public statement of support, and then promptly block their updates from my news feed.

This seems to be a perfect congruence of freedom of speech and freedom of association. And yet a federal judge named Raymond Jackson has ruled that Facebook likes are not protected by the First Amendment. Not as (written) speech, not as symbolic speech, not as a conduit to speech, not as freedom of association, not even as a method of petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. I must have missed the day in civil liberties class when the professor explained that the Constitution doesn’t apply to the Internet. It does leave me confused, though, about what happens if I call that federal judge a blithering idiot in this web-based forum. Would expressing such an opinion be protected speech? If expressing an opinion in an electronic way isn’t speech of any sort that the Constitution recognizes, can that opinion nonetheless rise to contempt of court? Because I’m searching Facebook for a group called “Judge Raymond Jackson is a moron,” and I’d like to know if I can safely click on the “Like” button when I find it.

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