Facebook has welcomed a US Appeals Court decision to class its “like” feature as legally protected speech thus opening up the debate as to what the US constitution covers online.
Reuters report that the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Hampton, Virginia ruled in favour of a former deputy sheriff that lost his job after “liking” the Facebook page of a person running for city sheriff against the incumbent who was his boss.
"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, Virginia-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."
Six employees that had previously worked under Hampton, Virginia Sheriff B.J. Roberts complained that being fired for liking the Facebook page back in 2009 had infringed their rights under the First Amendment. The appeal court ruling relates to three of the complainants and reverses, in part, the decision by US District Judge Raymond Jackson in May 2012 that “liking” a Facebook page is “insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection”.
The court case was initiated by deputy Daniel Carter who, after liking the Facebook [age support Jim Adams’ 2009 campaign, was told by Roberts: "You've made your bed, now you're going to lie in it, after the election you're out of here."
Facebook supported the decision and stated that using the like button is “no different to standing on a street corner and announcing one’s liking a candidate, which is protected speech”.
Three of the six employees involved in the case have been told they can apply for reinstatement, with Roberts able to plead qualified immunity over claims made by the six for money damages.
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