Engel & Martin has filed a lawsuit against the Mayor of the City of Lebanon, Amy Brewer, alleging that she has unconstitutionally ‘blocked’ members of the public from her Facebook page.
A Facebook Page is a public forum and a powerful mechanism for citizens to make their voices heard. The Mayor has opened this forum to speech by the general public – the posts and comment threads are accessible to anyone with a Facebook account who has not been blocked. The lawsuit alleges that the Mayor engaged in unconstitutional “viewpoint discrimination” by excluding Plaintiffs from this forum simply because they disagree with some of her policies.
Courts across the nation have found that government officials may not constitutionally block citizens on social media simply because the citizen has expressed opposition to the government official’s policies. Most famously, the Federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York found that the President Trump’s Twitter account was a public forum and that the President was prohibited from blocking critics. The Second Circuit concluded that once a government official “opens up the interactive features of his account to the public at large,” the official “is not entitled to censor selected users because they express views with which [the official] disagrees.”
The lawsuit alleges that Brewer uses the Facebook Page to communicate and interact with the public, communicate with constituents about issues of public concern, and share information about government work. She also invites and encourages the public to comment on matters of public concern on her Facebook Page and uses the Facebook Page to solicit participation in Lebanon government and community initiatives. The Plaintiffs in this case, who own and operate a business in downtown Lebanon, were blocked after criticizing the Mayor’s policies, not because of any violation of Facebook’s terms of service.
Managing Partner Joshua Engel, who is leading the litigation team, said:
“The Mayor’s Facebook Page functions like a digital town hall meeting – one in which the Mayor stands at the front of the room that she has opened to the general public, and in which assembled citizens respond to her statements. Excluding people from the digital town hall because they might disagree with the Mayor is a potent and unconstitutional form of speech suppression Having opened a communication channel with the public, the Mayor cannot constitutionally close it to those who express disagreement with her policies.”
For more information contact Engel & Martin at 513-445-9600