Good news for indiscriminate Facebookers. The US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Facebook likes are protected speech under the First Amendment.
This particular ordeal started back in 2009, when Sheriff BJ Roberts was running for reelection in Hampton, Virginia and was more than a little miffed to find that six of his employees had liked his opponent's Facebook page. When he won the election, he turned around and fired them. And when they fought back, a US District Court basically ruled that Likes don't require enough effort to count as free speech.
Now, it's swung the other way. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that liking a Facebook page is the online equivalent of putting a political sign in your yard. And it's been long-established that's totally covered by the First Amendment. It's definitely not something that a government employee can fire you for.
The rulings have been back and forth, but this is probably where things end, unless by some wild chance the Supreme Court chimes in to say otherwise. Still, it's worth noting that First Amendment protections only guard you from getting canned or similarly screwed by a public official. Private companies have a lot more leeway.
It's not a blank cheque to go liking horrendous things on Facebook with zero consequences, but it's definitely a step in bringing online rights in line with real-world ones. Just remember, there's nothing wrong with being friendly with your boss, but maybe don't do it on Facebook. [WSJ via The Verge]