According to The Blaze, the ruling stems from a Virginia case that involved six people who said Hampton Sheriff B.J. Roberts fired them for supporting an opponent in his 2009 re-election bid.
The workers sued Sheriff Roberts, claiming their rights under the First Amendment were violated.
In April 2012, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson ruled that while public employees are allowed to openly speak on matters of public concern, clicking "like" on Facebook does not rise to the level of expressive speech.
But the three-judge panel disagreed, saying 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. 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.”
Pankaj Venugopal, associate general counsel at Facebook, applauded the ruling.
“We are pleased the court recognized that a Facebook ‘Like’ is protected by the First Amendment,” he said in a brief statement. The social media giant had urged the Fourth Circuit to reverse Judge Jackson's ruling.
The ACLU also praised the court's decision.
"The Constitution doesn’t distinguish between ‘liking’ a candidate on Facebook and supporting him in a town meeting or public rally,” said Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.
“Sheriff Roberts is gratified that the Court agreed that he was entitled to qualified immunity because the law was not clear with regards to whether sheriffs could demand political loyalty from their deputies,” said Jeff W. Rosen, Sheriff Roberts' attorney.
Courts have said in the past that posts on Facebook are protected by the First Amendment, and Facebook has said it supports free speech.
Gizmodo's Eric Limer said the ruling is "definitely a step in bringing online rights in line with real-world ones," but cautioned that it's not a license to "go liking horrendous things on Facebook with zero consequences."
"Just remember, there's nothing wrong with being friendly with your boss, but maybe don't do it on Facebook," he added.
And as Examiner.com's Joseph L. Parker and conservative blogger Julia Sieben discovered, be careful when thanking friends, and don't ever get caught not posting a link when one doesn't have Internet access, as blogger Diane Sori discovered.
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