A U.S. federal appeals court overturned a lower-court judge’s decision that using the ‘Like’ button on Facebook’s page in support for a political candidate warranted no constitutional protection.
The 4th Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, on Thursday ruled in favor of a deputy jailer and five other former employees who lost their job as a result of clicking ‘Like’ on the Facebook’s Page of Jim Adams, his employer’s p olitical rival .
In effect, the appellate court was saying that a Facebook like is free speech, a legally protected right under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The six former employees, led by ex-deputy Daniel Carter, filed a case against Sheriff B. J. Roberts, argues that they were fired in violation of the First Amendment rights.
Carter’s controversial Facebook post in 2009 raised legal arguments against the use of social media tools, as well as online endorsements.
“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 and panel chief, 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.”
Facebook hailed the appeal court’s verdict, saying that the ‘Like’ button is a vital component of its business.
“We are pleased the court recognized that a Facebook ‘Like’ is protected by the First Amendment,” said Pankaj Venugopal, an associate general counsel at Facebook.
In his rejection of the First Amendment arguments, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson of Norfolk, Virginia dismissed Carter’s suit in April 2012. Jackson cited two federal court cases in 2011 that only actual statements posted on a user’s Facebook page were entitled to constitutional protection.
The Jackson’s ruling, which disregarded other forms of protected speech on the Internet, was heavily criticized by constitutional lawyers.
According to the appeals court ruling, clicking the ‘Like’ button by Carter was both “pure speech and symbolic expression” of his approval of the candidacy of his choice.
Providing moral support to Carter’s claims were the American Civil Liberties Union and National Associations of Police Organizations, which were also critical of Jackson.
The court unanimously reinstated Carter’s dismissal claims along two others, while upholding Roberts qualified immunity in the case.