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Fourth Circuit Rules Facebook Likes Protected Under First Amendment
This Wednesday, in a matter in which a former deputy sheriff from Hampton, Virginia claimed that he had been fired for making a “like” on the Facebook page of the candidate running against his boss, the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals held a Facebook “like” was protected by the First Amendment.
The Fourth Circuit observed in its decision, “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 in the opinion that a Facebook “like,” “is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”
Five other employees had also joined the lawsuit, and all claimed that Hampton Sheriff B.J. Roberts had fired them for supporting his opponent Jim Adams in a 2009 election.
Court documents reveal that before firing Daniel Carter, Roberts had told him, “You’ve made your bed, now you’re going to lie in it, after the election you’re out of here.”
US District Judge Raymond Jackson had previously ruled in the matter that a Facebook “like” did not merit constitutional protection. But on Wednesday the Fourth Circuit overruled him.
In the closely watched matter on the legal status of Internet opinions, Facebook Inc had also filed an amicus brief supporting constitutional protection for a Facebook “like.”
Facebook’s amicus brief claimed, “That a user may use a single mouse click to produce that message that he likes the page instead of typing the same message with several individual key strokes is of no constitutional significance.”
The ACLU had also filed an amicus brief, and welcomed the decision of the Fourth Circuit.
While it is difficult for employees to be financially compensated for their lost work time due to the present state of the law and restrictions of the 11th Amendment, at least three of the six employees have a chance to be reinstated, unless the Sheriff’s office finds a way around.