Blocking constituents from engaging in social media conversation has been a debated practice for some time, but now the American Civil Liberties Union is suing to stop it.
(TNS) — WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging Democrats and Republicans for blocking constituent social media, citing constitutional free speech protections.
The group has assumed the case of a woman who filed suit against Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar last September for blocking her access to his Facebook page.
J’aime Morgaine, founder of the liberal group Indivisible Kingman, claimed in the suit that Gosar’s maneuver violates her First Amendment rights.
“We took up this case because public officials who intentionally open up their social media for public conversation can’t stop people from joining in because of the views they express on the topics at hand,” ACLU attorney Darrell Hill told KPNX in Arizona.
“There are people who roll their eyes at me for what I’m doing,” Morgaine said in an interview with KPNX, “but this gives me more than validation. It gives my lawsuit credibility.”
Gosar’s office thinks the suit has no basis and is “likely intended to harass and annoy,” the GOP congressman’s chief of staff, Thomas Van Flein, said.
“The congressman has very clear rules against hate speech, spamming, ad hominem attacks and profanity,” Van Flein continued. “Users who were blocked were in violation of our policies. We expect our policies to be upheld by the court.”
Gosar is not the only lawmaker who finds himself in the ACLU’s crosshairs, nor is the group singling out Republicans.
The ACLU has sent letters to three Georgia lawmakers, Sen. Johnny Isakson and Reps. John Lewis and Barry Loudermilk, warning them to unblock constituents on social media or provide valid reasons for their decisions to block certain users. Otherwise, they could face a lawsuit similar to the one against Gosar.
“Our democracy thrives when people can freely criticize elected officials, including yourself,” the letter states, The Telegraph in Macon, Georgia, reported.
The ACLU of Georgia had previously sent a similar letter to Rep. Drew Ferguson, who complied with their requests.
Loudermilk responded to the letter, which his office said it has not received yet, with a stern statement on Thursday.
“Anyone who visits my Facebook page would know that the insinuation that I censor anyone who freely criticizes me is absurd,” Loudermilk said. “My page is a limited public forum where people are free to express their views and opinions in a reasonable manner. The only individuals who are ever blocked or have their comments hidden are those who violate the policies of the page.”
Those policies are posted on the page and are “designed to ensure that comments remain within the stated purpose of the forum and are consistent with the First Amendment,” he added.
“We have fairly and consistently enforced these policies.”
A spokeswoman for Isakson said the senator’s office hasn’t gotten a letter from the ACLU, “but after it was sent to Georgia media yesterday who then brought it to our attention, we contacted those constituents and made sure to unban or unblock them.”
“We try to keep our social media forums family friendly and screen comments for profanity or offensive language,” Amanda Maddox said.
Isakson’s Twitter account is an official Senate account. The Facebook page is run by his campaign.
A spokesperson for Lewis could not immediately be reached for comment on the letter.
President Donald Trump, notoriously an avid tweeter, is also the defendant in a lawsuit involving free speech on social media. The plaintiff, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, claims the president is violating the First Amendment rights of seven people by blocking them on Twitter.
The White House has said Trump’s @RealDonaldTrump account is personal and not related to the government.
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