Court Rules Facebook 'Like' Is Protected Free Speech

Facebook users, who click the "like" feature to back a political candidate, engage in legally protected speech. That's according to a ruling by a federal appeals court. It revived a lawsuit that examines the limits of what people may do constitutionally online.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a former deputy sheriff in Virginia, who claimed he lost his job in retaliation for his "liking" the Facebook page of a candidate running against his boss for sheriff.

The federal appeals court in Virginia ruled 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.

Chris Craft is a social media expert based in Texas.

"I think that social media in general, is a little bit like the Wild Wild West, when it comes to our nation's laws, and I believe that the judge in this case said it best, that a 'like' on Facebook is the equivalent of putting a political campaign sign in your yard."

Craft says social media in terms of the law has a lot of challenges with free speech being a big one.

"We also see it permeating other aspects of the law. Human Resources departments using Facebook or using social media to determine the worthiness of a potential hire. We're going to see more and more of these types of social media legal precedents being figured out, because it is such a new medium."

Professor Peter Linzer is a constitutional law expert at the UH Law Center. He says the case is another example of how to best protect people using social media.

"There are lots of questions about the internet and social media. Given that our history is about print and it's about radio and television, and now we're getting these much more dispersed sort of things. Anybody can put his stuff online, and one of the big questions is: what kind of protections are these people getting? And this is one saying they get a lot of protection."

Linzer says it's not a resolved issue by any means.

"You're going to have lots of problems. Are these libels when you say something in a blog? Do you get a reporter's protection under a shield law when you're blogging and you're not working for a newspaper? All these questions are still basically wide open. But every time we get a decision like this, it adds to the evolution of rights on the internet."

More and more companies are formulating policies that detail what you can and can't do online.

Bio photo of Pat Hernandez

Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...