A U.S. appeals court ruled Wednesday that clicking a "like" button on Facebook is a form of political speech protected by the First Amendment.
The appeals court panel ruling restored a suit filed by a Hampton, Va., sheriff's deputy, Daniel Carter, who claimed he was fired after the 2009 election because he clicked the "like" button on the page of a political rival of Sheriff B.J. Roberts. Roberts had served as sheriff for 17 years at that point.
The ruling restored parts of the suit filed by four other employees of the Hampton Sheriff's Department.
A federal judge earlier had dismissed the suit.
The appeals court ruling allows the suit to go forward and is not a decision on the merits, but it puts a Facebook "like" into the category of protected speech.
One member of the three-judge panel dissented in part to the majority's ruling.
In the majority ruling, Chief Judge William B. Traxler Jr. said, "Carter's interest in expressing support for his favored candidate outweighed the sheriff's interest in providing effective and efficient services to the public," which he claimed was hampered by Carter's public opposition.
"Carter's speech [consisting of the Facebook 'like'] was political speech, which is entitled to the highest level of protection," Traxler said.
The judge said clicking the "like" button was the "Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one's front yard."
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is based in Richmond, Va.
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Original headline: Facebook 'like' ruled political expression
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