Today’s burning question: Can we delete comments that we find offensive on our fire department’s Facebook page?
Answer: That question is actually a heck of a lot more complicated than you might imagine… just ask the City of Beech Grove, Indiana. The city is facing a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Indiana on behalf of two women who claim that their posts on the Beech Grove Police Department’s Facebook page as well as the city’s Facebook page have been deleted and the women blocked from making further posts.
The suit was filed June 29, 2016 in US District Court in Indianapolis and seeks injunctive relief for what the women allege is a violation of their First Amendment rights. At the heart of the controversy is whether removing content from a governmenal entity’s social media site is a form of government censorship prohibited by the First Amendment. The basics of the dispute are relatively simple to grasp, and very well explained in the complaint:
- Kymberly Quick and Deborah Mays-Miller are residents of Beech Grove who are active in the community’s crime watch program.
- Because of their interest in crime awareness and prevention, they follow the Beech Grove Police Department’s Facebook page, and post comments both praising the Police Department and, on occasion, commenting on what they view as inaccurate reporting of crime statistics, among other things.
- Quick and Ms. Miller also post comments on the City’s Facebook page.
- On multiple occasions, the City and the Police Department have removed Ms. Quick and Ms. Mays-Miller’s comments and those of other members of the public that are critical or pose questions to the Department, or are deemed negative or unpleasant by the City.
- They have also blocked Ms. Quick and Ms. Mays-Miller from posting future comments because of the viewpoint of their past postings.
- The City and the Police Department’s policy and practice of censoring public comments on their Facebook pages on the basis of their viewpoint is a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and it must be enjoined.
- The defendant’s removal of the plaintiffs’ comments on the BGPD and City of Beech Grove Facebook pages and blocking of plaintiffs’ ability to make future comments violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and the defendant’s policy and practice of removing public comments because of their viewpoint and blocking users from future comments on the basis of the viewpoint of past postings is a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Quick and May-Miller want the court to enjoin the city from blocking them and removing their comments. According to the IndyStar, the city has opted to remove their Facebook pages in response to the suit.
Here is a copy of the complaint: Quick v Beech Grove
August 6, 2016 Update: