Rest assured, your Facebook likes are now free speech

The Constitution protects your right to like whatever inane Facebook page you want to, a federal appeals court in Virginia decided this week.

The decision was spurred by the sheriff of Hampton, Virginia, who fired his employees for liking his challenger’s Facebook campaign page.

U.S. Circuit Judge William Traxler wrote in the court’s decision that liking a political candidate’s Facebook page is “the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”

Facebook, of course, is pleased with the decision. The social network’s representatives argued before the appeals court earlier this year that likes are an essential part of communicating on the platform and should be protected as free speech.

It seems obvious: The freedom to express political opinions is a cornerstone of American civilization. But social media is up-ending the way we express those opinions. Clicking a thumbs-up sign doesn’t carry the same weight as a car festooned with political stickers—the latter requires much more effort, to start—but the same laws apply.

Surprisingly, the decision wasn’t an obvious one. A lower court dismissed the case last year, citing precedent on Facebook protections for actual statements users post. A Facebook like is not the same as voicing an opinion, but legal precedent covers symbolic gestures as free speech.

But with great power comes great responsibility, so be judicious with your likes.

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