Can public agencies be held liable for deleting comments made on their social media pages or for banning users?
The Hawaii Defense Foundation, a non-profit organization focusing on civil rights, believes such censorship is wrong and illegal.
The group filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against the City and County of Honolulu and Captain Andrew Lum of the Honolulu Police Department after their Facebook postings were repeatedly deleted and they were banned from future postings.
Attorneys Richard Holcomb, Alan Beck, and Brian Brazier argue in their filing that Honolulu Police “unlawfully administer their Facebook Fan page in violation of American citizens right to free speech.”
The complaint claims “Honolulu police arbitrarily moderate the page by deleting comments and banning users who post or make comments unfavorable to the department” and that “online speech is just as important as a citizen airing their grievance in a public park – just because the speech is virtual, doesn’t mean it is not protected.”
Capt. Lum said the HPD cannot comment on details regarding the pending lawsuit. But added guidelines for posting are on the HPD Facebook site.
But Christopher Baker, spokesperson for The Hawaii Defense Foundation, said: “The First Amendment protects the right to free speech. Without question, social media has become a cornerstone for communication in the days of iPads, smart phones, and computers. In fact, online speech within sites like Facebook is utilized every day by citizens, businesses, and government agencies to communicate with the public at large.”
Baker said the online world is the medium for citizens to share ideas and voice their opinions on a wide variety of topics.
“Across the globe, social media has been at the forefront of communication during natural disasters, revolts against tyranny, and civil protest; few methods of speech see more activity than Facebook and Twitter. We have already seen governments infringe online speech. Just look at countries like China or Egypt who have at times prohibit these sites in order to silence their citizens into submission. Deleting comments and banning people from expressing their opinion is nothing more than an act of oppression. We are not China, nor Egypt. American citizens have a voice, and these practices must stop,” Baker said.
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