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Consent Decree Protects First Amendment on Facebook

Consent Decree Protects First Amendment on Facebook

A federal judge in Cincinnati has approved a consent decree protecting the First Amendment rights of Ohio citizens on Facebook.

Engel & Martin had filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Hamilton Township, Ohio residents against a local elected official, Hamilton Twp. Trustee David Wallace Jr.  The lawsuit claimed that Wallace violated their First Amendment rights by preventing them from commenting on his Hamilton Twp. Trustee Facebook site.

Read more: Media Coverage. 

The Ohio lawsuit is similar to a lawsuit from Virginia finding that a local government official voted the First Amendment rights of a citizen by blocking the citizen from commenting on the official’s Facebook page.

In the Ohio lawsuit, plaintiff alleged that Wallace’s Facebook page was a public forum because he used it for official communications.  Wallace agreed to a settlement, including the payment of Plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.

Read the Consent Decree.

In the Consent Decree, Judge Dlott ordered Wallace to “immediately remove any blocks, bans, or impediments to Plaintiffs and all other persons from viewing or commenting upon the Facebook Page.”  The Court also prohibited Wallace

from blocking, banning, or in any manner impeding . . . all other persons from viewing or commenting upon . . .  Any other social media site, or webpage established by Wallace arising out of public, not personal, circumstances or maintained for the purpose of providing information to the public, communicating with his constituents, or otherwise used as a tool of governance.

Joshua Engel, one of the attorneys, along with Anne Tamashasky, representing the Plaintiffs, said that this is an important case.  “For years, courts have held that citizens cannot be denied the right to speak in a public forum based on the person’s viewpoint.  Facebook is the 21st Century;s public forum.”

Engel added that politicians should welcome open debate on social media.  “So long as everyone is respectful, social media should be embraced by politicians to learn what their constituents think.  It is an opportunity for our leaders to hear from everyone, not just their ‘base supporters.'”

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