A panel of judges in Richmond ruled today that liking stuff on Facebook constitutes constitutionally protected free speech.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling reverses a lower court’s ruling that “liking” a Facebook page is “insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection,” according to the Virginia ACLU, which filed an amicus brief in the case. Here’s the press release the group sent out:
The question of whether or not a Facebook "Like" constitutes free expression arose from a case in which employees of the Sheriff's Department of Hampton argued that their free speech and association rights were violated when they were fired from their jobs because they supported the Sheriff's opponent during an election. One of the plaintiffs had "liked" the opponent's Facebook page.
When a user "likes" content or a page, Facebook also publicizes that user's "Like" action to that user's friends, essentially announcing the user's interest in or appreciation of that content or page.
In the opinion, the Fourth Circuit held that "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."
The ruling was silent on whether friend requests and pokes also qualify as protected speech.