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ACLU: Public officials can’t block critical commenters on social media

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi is warning public officials that by blocking members of the public from their official social media accounts, they are violating the First Amendment.

Gov. Tate Reeves, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, Petal Mayor Hal Marx, U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo and the Jones County Sheriff’s Department are all accused to be in violation. The First Amendment protects speech on social media about public officials and their policies and practices. No government official can allow positive commentary and silence the critical.

The ACLU of Mississippi received complaints from individuals whose comments – which expressed viewpoints that were critical of several elected officials – were deleted and their accounts subsequently blocked and banned from the official pages.

“This action is equivalent to closing public meetings to disagreeing constituents,” staff attorney Landon Thames said.

The interactive sections of government social media pages (comment sections) are designated public forums “created by government designation of a place or channel of communication for use by the public at large for assembly and speech, for use by certain speakers, or for the discussion of certain subjects.” Cornelius v. NAACP, 473 U.S. 788, 802 (1985).

The ACLU of Mississippi sent letters Jan. 6 to these five public officials to warn them of their violation. If they do not stop the practice of blocking members of the public and deleting unfavorable comments, legal action may take place. The ACLU of Mississippi also requests that each official confirm they have unblocked or unbanned individuals who have been blocked or banned on their official social media pages.

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