‘Like’ and free speech?

Lilly Casolaro

Staff Writer

According to a 440-participant study conducted by Susan Sarapin, assistant professor of journalism and communication, “81.6 percent of respondents believed that ‘Liking’ something is communicating a message.” Pamela Morris, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, also led the study.

“When ‘Like’-Minded People Click: Facebook Interaction Conventions, the Meaning of ‘Speech’ Online, and Bland v. Roberts,” was published in 2014 in Taylor and Francis’ “First Amendment Studies,” and focuses on the ruling of Bland v. Roberts (2013) and freedom of speech regarding social media.

The case involves Daniel Carter, a deputy in a Virginia sheriff’s office, and his supervisor, Sheriff B.J. Roberts, who was running for re-election. Carter “liked” the Facebook campaign of Jim Adams, the opponent of Roberts. Carter, along with five other plaintiffs, lost their jobs after Roberts won re-election in Hampton, Virginia.

Virginia District Court Judge Raymond A. Jackson said that clicking the Facebook “Like” button is “not sufficient to constitute speech,” according to the Sarapin/Morris study.

Sarapin and Morris discussed whether “Facebook users’ attitudes and practice indicate the expectation of free speech protection.”

“The First Amendment has to do with

the government’s relationship to individual people,” said Sarapin. “It is the government suppression of expression.

But there are limitations to freedom of speech.

“I specialize in how the media affects the law and where the two come together. My colleague and I wanted to first determine whether the ‘Like’ button is communication.”

Sarapin and Morris said that social networking sites are a major way to connect and communicate with others. Social networking sites use various modes, such as the Facebook “Like” button, to send an implied message.

“It is one of the most, if not the most, familiar ways Facebook communicators can demonstrate they are intending to speak to the receiver in a manner which is easily understood,” the study said.

The participants, whose ages fell in the 18-24 and 45-and-above categories, were asked questions on the meaning the “Like” button conveys and how the audience perceives the message.

Not only is the “Like” button a communication tool, but it is also “a way for users to give an opinion about or express a reaction to something with a single click and also provides a quantitative summary of users’ ‘Liking’ actions,” according to the study.

The multiple meanings the “Like” button can imply range from expressing enjoyment of a friend’s post, to giving positive feedback or quickly sharing and spreading information.

“Respondents (of the survey) largely agree on the common meaning of the message being sent by the use of the ‘Like’ button: agreement, approval, endorsement, and support for a person, place, or idea,” according to the study.

The results of the Sarapin/Morris study indicate that respondents believe that clicking the “Like” button does constitute speech.

The multiple meanings the “Like” button can imply range from expressing enjoyment of a friend’s post, to giving positive feedback.

Troy University students are exercising the First Amendment right of freedom of speech through “Liking” the pages of candidates running for the Student Government Association positions.

“A college student serving on SGA will not be held to the same responsibility as those working in the sheriff’s office,” Sarapin said. “People still need to be deliberate and thoughtful about what they post on the Internet because it is there forever.”

Laken Berry, a freshman undeclared major from Athens and member of the SGA, said that social media are a great way for candidates to campaign, and she encourages students to take advantage of the availability of information.

“Last semester, when I was going to vote in the elections, I got much of my knowledge on who was running and what the person’s beliefs and desires were from Facebook,” Berry said.

“Social media has become a huge area for speech, and, just like any type of media, it should be covered by the First Amendment. Students should not be penalized by their schools, work, or government by what they ‘Like’ on social media.”

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