A federal appeals court said Wednesday that Facebook users who employ the "Like" feature to show support for a political candidate engage in legally protected speech.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a former deputy sheriff in Hampton, Va., who claimed that he had lost his job in retaliation for "liking" the Facebook page of a candidate running against his boss for city 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," Chief Judge William Traxler wrote for a three-judge panel of the Richmond, Va.-based appeals court. "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 case had been brought by six former employees of Hampton Sheriff B.J. Roberts, who claimed they were fired in violation of their First Amendment rights in retaliation for their having supported his opponent Jim Adams in a 2009 election.
The decision revived claims by three of the six employees. It partially reversed an April 2012 ruling by U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson in Newport News, Va., who called the "liking" of a Facebook page "insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection."