September 20, 2013
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia issued a ruling that utilizing the “Like” feature on Facebook to show support for a political candidate is protected by the Constitution. The ruling is in light of a lawsuit brought by former employees of a sheriff’s office who claim they lost their jobs after supporting their boss’s opponent, which involved a campaign on Facebook. The Virginia Court’s decision reversed an earlier decision from a lower court.
“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,” U.S. Circuit Judge William Traxler wrote. “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 post, made four years ago when a Virginia jailer clicked the ‘Like’ button on the ‘Jim Adams for Hampton Sheriff’ Facebook page, became the subject of arguments over how to view one-click, online endorsements of a person, idea or product,” explains Bloomberg.
Moreover, the court’s decision is vital to Facebook, for the “Like” button is used by 500 million people and must have protection.
“We are pleased the court recognized that a Facebook ‘Like’ is protected by the First Amendment,” Pankaj Venugopal, an associate general counsel at Facebook, said in an e-mailed statement.
“Danny Carter, the jailer, claims he was fired after he posted a picture of his boss’s opponent in the sheriff’s race on his Facebook page, along with a link to the contender’s website,” reports Bloomberg. The suit was dismissed in April 2012, with the First Amendment claim ignored. The decision was criticized by lawyers who said that other protected Internet speech is done by clicking a button.
However, the appeals court unanimously ruled that liking something on Facebook is protected speech. The sheriff was deemed immune from monetary damages due to a separate legal issue.
“Sheriff Roberts is gratified that the court agreed that he was entitled to qualified immunity because the law was not clear with regard to whether sheriffs could demand political loyalty from their deputies,” Jeff Rosen, a lawyer for Roberts, said in a statement.
Rosen has argued that liking something on Facebook has many meanings and may not warrant protection.
“We do not believe the court’s decision on the Facebook issue will impact the final outcome of the case,” Rosen said.