The case before the court involved a former deputy sheriff in Hampton, VA, who says he was fired from his job after the then-sheriff noticed that the plaintiff and other deputies had “liked” another candidate in the race for sheriff.
“Liking a political candidate’s campaign page communicates the user’s approval of the candidate and supports the campaign by associating the user with it,” wrote the three-judge appeals panel, reversing a 2012 lower court ruling against the former deputy. “It is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”
The lower court had held that clicking a like button on Facebook was “insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection” and had thrown the case out.
But the appeals panel ruled that a simple like statement on Facebook or elsewhere is no different than putting a “Vote for Bob” sign on your front yard; it may tick off your neighbors and cause disagreements with those who have a different opinion, but it’s still your right to say it.
“On the most basic level, clicking on the ‘like’ button literally causes to be published the statement that the User ‘likes’ something, which is itself a substantive statement,” wrote the panel in its unanimous decision.
Even though the appeals court has revived the plaintiff’s case, and given new life to two other former deputies’ cases, the best they can hope for is to get their old jobs back. The sheriff would not have to pay any financial penalties, as the panel held that he is entitled to qualified immunity under the 11th Amendment, which limits the scope of lawsuits against public officials.
Facebook ‘likes’ are protected free speech, says court [TheVerge]
Facebook ‘like’ deserves free speech protection, court rules [Chicago Tribune]