First Amendment Rights of Constituents Violated When Hundreds Are Blocked from Official Social Media Sites
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky filed a federal lawsuit July 31, 2017 challenging Governor Matt Bevin’s practice of permanently banning or blocking individuals from his official Facebook page and Twitter accounts. The suit seeks a declaration that the policy is a violation of individuals’ First Amendment rights, and it asks for an injunction to prevent Governor Bevin from permanently blocking individuals from those online forums.
The suit was filed on behalf of a retired, Eastern Kentucky social justice activist and a politically engaged Louisville resident who were permanently blocked from engaging in political speech on the governor’s official Facebook page and Twitter accounts, respectively, after posting comments that were not obscene, abusive, or defamatory.
“I’ve been very active in my community and in Frankfort for the past two years,” said ACLU-KY client Mary Hargis. “I’ve been frustrated with Governor Bevin’s stances on a number of social justice issues. I was shocked when I discovered that I was blocked from further commenting on the Governor’s posts. I may not have voted for Governor Bevin, but I’m one of his constituents. He shouldn’t be permanently dismissing my views and concerns with a click.”
“I often use the official social media pages of my local, state, and federal representatives as a way to share feedback,” said ACLU-KY client Drew Morgan. “I was surprised when Governor Bevin blocked my access to his Twitter page, particularly because of how many times he has asked Kentuckians to follow his social media pages to hear about his ideas and policies directly from him.”
The lawsuit argues the Governor’s policy of permanently banning individuals from engaging in political speech on official social media forums is not sufficiently tailored to promote any legitimate governmental interest in moderating its online forums, and that it constitutes an unlawful prior restraint on speech.
ACLU of Kentucky Legal Director William Sharp stated, “The First Amendment does not allow the government to exclude speakers from a public forum because it disagrees with their viewpoint.” He added, “And even when the government seeks to enforce permissible limits in such a forum, permanently excluding individuals for violating those limits goes too far.”
The suit was filed after the Governor’s Office ignored a demand letter the ACLU-KY sent about the more than 600 people whose First Amendment rights were violated when they posted comments and were blocked from all future posting on the governor’s Facebook page and Twitter accounts. The letter asked, in part, for Governor Bevin to unblock the hundreds of affected individuals and to develop written criteria for how his administration will moderate online forms going forward.