A federal appellate court on Wednesday ruled that the First Amendment protects the act of “liking” on Facebook or other social media.

In Bland v. Roberts, a sheriff’s deputy “liked” the Facebook page of the candidate who was challenging the incumbent sheriff in the upcoming elections.  After the incumbent won re-election, the deputy was fired.

The deputy, along with five other co-workers, sued for a violation of his First Amendment rights.  The district court dismissed the deputy’s claim, concluding that “merely ‘liking’ a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection.”

The Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that “liking” is expressive and therefore protected by the First Amendment.   Judge William B. Traxler reasoned that “clicking on the ‘like’ button literally causes to be published the statement that the User ‘likes’ something, which is itself a substantive statement.”  By liking a political candidate, “the meaning that the user approves of the candidacy whose page is being liked is unmistakable,” Judge Traxler wrote.  Judge Traxler concluded that using a “single mouse click” rather than typing is “of no constitutional significance.”

In other words, “liking” a political candidate “is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech,” the Court wrote.

The ruling affirms the principle that the First Amendment broadly protects expression, and is not merely limited to written sentences or words.