Appeals Court finds public employees’ Facebook “like” is the internet equivalent of a political yard sign

Last week, a federal appeals court held that a public employee’s support of a campaign on Facebook was protected speech under the First Amendment.  In Bland v. Roberts (No. 12-1671), sheriff’s department employees in Virginia lost their jobs after a political campaign in which they expressed support on Facebook for the political rival of the winning candidate.

The court had to decide whether certain activity on Facebook is considered protected “speech” under the First Amendment.  In this case, they decided it was.

The court analyzed the significance of “liking” something on Facebook drawing an analogy to the non-digital world.  Liking a page on Facebook literally causes a statement of support to be published for all your Facebook “friends” to see, the Court reasoned.  By that rationale, liking something on Facebook “is the internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard…”  For the same reason, posting a message of support on a campaign’s Facebook page “constitutes speech within the meaning of the First Amendment.”

For more information on when public employee speech is entitled to First Amendment protection, please contact your labor law counsel.

By Jake White | September 24, 2013

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