The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth District ruled that the First Amendment protects the expression of ‘like’ on the website of Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) because it represents a substantive speech.
Facebook like and insufficient speech
The court of appeals reversed the prior ruling of federal District Judge Raymond Jackson that a Facebook like is an “insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection.” Jackson dismissed a lawsuit filed against Sheriff BJ Roberts on allegations that he violated the constitutional rights of his deputies when he refused to reappoint them after supporting his rival during his re-election in 2009.
In his ruling last year, Judge Raymond emphasized that the written posts on Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) in the past that were granted protection under the First Amendment falls under a different category because the posts contained “actual statements.”
Distinction between a post and a ‘like’
The complainants appealed Judge Jackson’s ruling and they prevailed. Chief Judge William Traxler Jr., pointed out that there is no distinction between a post and a ‘like’ on Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB).
“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,” wrote Traxler for the three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit.
The Fourth Circuit explained that ‘liking’ a campaign on Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) is similar to displaying a political sign in a person’s front yard, which is considered a substantive speech.
Sheriff Roberts not required to pay compensations
The court also ruled that Sheriff Roberts is entitled to be qualified under the 11th Amendment. The law provides limitations on the scope of lawsuits filed against public officials. Roberts is not required to pay any compensation to his former deputies.
Jeff Rosen, the legal counsel from Pender & Coward PC representing Roberts, said that the sheriff was “gratified that the court agreed that he was entitled to qualified immunity because the law was not clear with regards to whether sheriffs could demand political loyalty from their deputies.”
Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB), through its general counsel Pankaj Venugopal, issued a statement that it was pleased with the decision of the court that a Facebook ‘Like’ is protected by the First Amendment.