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Court grants First Amendment protection to Facebook 'Like'

Liking a political candidate's Facebook Page is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in your front yard, a federal appeals court ruled.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A Facebook "Like" is the equivalent of free speech protected by the First Amendment, a federal court of appeals ruled Wednesday.

The likable ruling was included in a decision published by the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals in Bland v. Roberts.

In the case, which is still ongoing, Bobby Bland and five of his co-workers in the Sheriff's Department in Hampton, Va., are suing their former employer, Sheriff B.J. Roberts, for wrongful termination. Part of the suit hinged around the question of whether liking a campaign's Facebook Page is protected speech. One of the plaintiffs, Daniel Carter, said that he was fired for liking the Page of a candidate running against Roberts in the 2009 election.

A district court originally ruled last year that liking a Facebook Page is "insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection," but the appeals court overturned that part of the decision.

"In sum, 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 court determined in its decision published Wednesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief in the appeal supporting the plaintiffs.

"This ruling rightly recognizes that the First Amendment protects free speech regardless of the venue, whether a sentiment is expressed in the physical world or online. The Constitution doesn't distinguish between 'liking' a candidate on Facebook and supporting him in a town meeting or public rally," Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, said in a statement to CNET.

[via The Wall Street Journal]

Updated at 10:57 a.m. PT with statement from ACLU's Ben Wizner.