Good news! Facebook “likes” are officially protected speech covered under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
According to a recent ruling in a federal appeals court, a Facebook “like” is considered a “substantive statement” being made by a user, and should have the same free speech protections as other forms of expression.
“Well, that’s obvious, right?” you ask. “Who got in so much trouble over a ‘like’ that they had to take it to the highest courts in the land?”
I’m glad you asked, you curious little reader, you.
This ruling traces its origins back to 2009 when a Virginia sheriff running for re-election canned his deputy and five other employees for supporting his political rival. The deputy had apparently shown his support for the rival sheriff candidate by “liking” his campaign Facebook page.
His boss kept his badge and allegedly fired the deputy out of revenge.
The deputy then took the sheriff to court, arguing that his Facebook “like” should be protected as free speech under the First Amendment.
The case went the other way last year, with the judge ruling that Facebook “likes” aren’t “actual statements,” but with the support of the ACLU and Facebook itself, former-deputy Daniel Ray Carter appealed the decision and won in the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Although it requires only a click of a computer mouse, a Facebook ‘Like’ publishes text that literally states that the user likes something … [and] is, thus, a means of expressing support — whether for an individual, an organization, an event, a sports team, a restaurant, or a cause,” wrote the ACLU in its brief.
The court agreed, saying that a “like” on a campaign page is the “Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”
“Once one understands the nature of what Carter did by liking the Campaign Page, it becomes apparent that his conduct qualifies as speech,” Chief Judge William B. Traxler Jr. wrote in the decision.
If you’re a social law nerd, you can read the court’s actual decision below. Otherwise, go like all the offensive shit you want without fear of being fired.