Internet Law

Clicking 'like' is protected by First Amendment, 4th Circuit says

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A Facebook “like” is speech that is protected by the First Amendment, a federal appeals court has ruled in the case of a sheriff’s employee who lost his job for liking the sheriff’s election opponent.

A federal judge in Virginia had ruled that clicking like was “insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection,” but the Richmond-Va.-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

Liking a political candidate’s campaign page “is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech,” the court said. The National Law Journal, Bloomberg News and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog covered the ruling, and How Appealing linked to the opinion (PDF).

The court ruled on behalf of jailer Daniel Carter, who lost his job after Hampton, Va., Sheriff B.J. Roberts won re-election. Carter had backed Roberts’ opponent and liked his Facebook page. The court ruled the sheriff did not have to pay money damages because he was entitled to qualified immunity, but he is not protected from the remedy of reinstatement, according to the National Law Journal account.

Carter was one of six employees who sued after their firing, but the only employee to raise the Facebook “like” issue, the Law Blog says. The opinion allowed claims by Roberts and two other employees who said they were fired because of their political allegiance in violation of the First Amendment.

The case is Bland v. Roberts.

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