The case of a former deputy sheriff and several of his co-workers in Hampton, Virginia, who claimed they were fired for liking the Facebook page of a candidate running against their boss in 2009 went all the way to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled on the case this week. The verdict: Facebook likes are indeed protected by free speech laws.
“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,” Chief Judge William Traxler wrote. “It is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”
Six former employees of sheriff B.J. Roberts brought a case against him for firing them due to their support of his opponent. According to the court documents, the sheriff told deputy sheriff Daniel Carter that: “You’ve made your bed, now you’re going to lie in it, after the election you’re out of here.” Both Facebook and the ACLU expressed their pleasure about the ruling, saying that the boundaries between expressing one’s beliefs in the real world and expressing them online are becoming thinner and thinner.
While the rights of the sheriff’s employees were justly upheld, it’s important to remember to be careful what content you like or post on Facebook. It’s a direct reflection of your personal beliefs, and you never know who may disagree with them.