First Amendment, Facebook, Cited in Federal Lawsuit Against City, Local Police

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cartoon illustration about facebook, facebook towerCan public agencies censor comments on their social media pages?

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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  1. Sent to fb,

    I have been informed you are blocking my posts, this is a direct violation of my first amendment right in the USA, you are located inside the USA, and have no right to violate the Constitution or the Bill of Rights of the USA.

    This is a violation of my first amendment rights!!!!!!!!!!

    North Central Maryland NORML


    While we appreciate your enthusiasm, we're going to ask you in kind if you would stop spamming our message board. You are most certainly welcome to continue posting articles to the page's timeline, but please note that Facebook is systematically hiding your comments as it thinks that they are spam. We are not going to make the effort to unhide several comments. I thank you in advance for your understanding.


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