In Bland v. Roberts, 730 F.3d 368 (4th Cir. 2013) (No. 12-1671), plaintiffs, certain Sheriff’s Office employees, brought a civil rights action alleging that the sheriff retaliated against them, in violation of their First Amendment rights, because of their support of the sheriff’s electoral opponent. One of the plaintiffs had “liked” the opponent’s campaign page on Facebook. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant sheriff, holding, among other things, that merely “liking” a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection. The Fourth Circuit reversed. After explaining how Facebook and its “like” feature work, the court ruled that it was apparent that this conduct qualifies as protected speech. The court found that clicking the “like” button literally causes to be published the statement that the user “likes” something – which is itself a substantive statement. Further, aside from the fact the liking the campaign page was “pure speech,” it also was symbolic expression, as depicted by the “universally understood ‘thumbs up’ symbol.” The court concluded that a Facebook like was the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.
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Facebook “likes” are protected speech
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