Last month, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the City of Beech Grove, Indiana, on behalf of two individuals who claim that comments they posted to the City's Facebook page were deleted in violation of their First Amendment rights. According to the complaint, after the two residents of Beech Grove posted comments on the City and police department Facebook pages criticizing or questioning activities of the police department, their comments were removed and they were banned from posting future comments. Shortly after the accounts were blocked, the City posted the following on its Facebook page:
This Facebook site was created to pass on information to you and to try to keep you informed as to what is occurring in our City. We will not entertain negative comments towards anyone, nor will we host arguments between individuals. We do not care who you are, we are trying to inform you. If you decide to make unpleasant comments we will delete you.
The two residents claim that the City's actions in removing their comments and blocking them from posting on both the city and police department Facebook pages violate their free speech rights under the First Amendment. The complaint also argues that the City's practice of removing public comments because of their viewpoint (i.e., "negative comments") also violates the First Amendment. The lawsuit asks the court to enjoin the City from blocking comments based on their viewpoint.
This will be an interesting case to follow, assuming it moves forward and doesn't settle like the Honolulu case involving the police department's removal of critical posts. News reports about the case suggest that the City will seek settlement with the two residents, although it won't include any agreement to "unblock" the two residents since the City has since taken its Facebook page down.
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf