The ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (posted online by the Wall Street Journal) revives a lawsuit filed by fired Hampton, Va., sheriff’s deputy Danny Carter. A judge threw out his case after finding that “one click of a button” did not qualify as speech protected by the First Amendment, Bloomberg reported at the time.
The appeals court reversed that ruling using this reasoning:
On the most basic level, clicking on the “like” button literally causes to be published the statement that the User “likes” something, which is itself a substantive statement. In the context of a political campaign’s Facebook the meaning that the user approves of the candidacy whose page is being liked is unmistakable. 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. …
In sum, 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. In this way, it is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.
In a footnote, the court added, “The Supreme Court has rejected the notion that online speech is somehow not worthy of the same level of protection as other speech.”
Roberts says he got fired along with other employees who backed a man named Jim Adams for sheriff. (In Hampton, sheriff is an elected position.) His opponent, incumbent Sheriff B.J. Roberts, allegedly gathered his deputies before the election and said, “Don’t be getting on Facebook supporting my opponents,” Virginia’s Daily Press reported.
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