On the Web, free speech is often thrown around as a shield to protect people who don’t want to be responsible for their words. However, there are plenty of stories of people being fired for ill advised posts on social media.
But that doesn’t mean you can be fired from your job for expressing your political beliefs online. According to a recent ruling by the US Court of Appeals in Richmond, VA, a Facebook “like” is Constitutionally protected speech.
According to the Digital Media Law project, the 2011 case was brought by Bobby Bland and five former employees of the Hampton, Virginia Sheriff’s Department. In Bland v Roberts, the plaintiffs alleged wrongful termination by their former employer, Sheriff B.J. Roberts because they supported his opposition. Roberts filed and won a motion for summary judgment in 2012 on the basis that a Facebook “like” did not meet the standard for “expressive speech.”
Of course, the plaintiff’s filed an appeal. Facebook joined in with support and according to Bloomberg, took the position that with 500 people using the site to share ideas, the “like” feature was vital and “must have free-speech protection.”
In the Wednesday September 18, 2013 decision, Fourth Circuit Court Judge William Traxler ruled that the previous court had made an error and a Facebook “like” is, indeed, protected speech.
“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,” Traxler wrote. “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.”