A significant development for online political poo-flingers we wanted to be sure got a mention, part of a reckoning that has been occurring across the nation as the implications of effortless social media speech–and the equally effortless censorship thereof–are weighed against constitutional rights taken for granted in every other medium. As the Pueblo Chieftain’s Peter Roper reports:
Senate President Leroy Garcia was ordered to pay a $25,000 judgement this month by a Denver district court judge for blocking critical comments from a Pueblo man on Garcia’s Facebook page.
The April 12 decision from Judge R. Brooke Jackson said Garcia was wrong to block a critical comment from Alexander Armijo on Garcia’s Facebook page. The judge said that was a violation of Armijo’s First Amendment rights of free speech.
Courts have ruled that when an elected official operates a social media site in an official capacity, it is much like a public town hall meeting where the public comments generally cannot be censored.
You read that right–a critic of Senate President Leroy Garcia was actually paid $25,000 this month over the removal of a Facebook comment from Garcia’s page! The district court ruling reportedly allows a lawmaker to delete threats, defamatory comments, and advertisements. With those exceptions, your right to say whatever you want on a politician’s Facebook page and not have it deleted or otherwise censored from public view has been upheld in court with a pile of money to incentivize compliance.
All we can say is, we’ve got a lot of online political gadfly types among our readers, and you should all go check to see if you’ve been blocked, had comments deleted or suppressed, or any other kind of limitation placed on your free speech rights by a politician who has a social media presence where he public is allowed to interact with them.
Because that’s illegal now, and we seriously doubt Leroy Garcia is the only politician who’s recently deleted an undesirable comment from their page. So get out there and make this precedent stick, gadflies, while the going rate is still a boatload of money.
If you’re a politico or (more likely) a staffer reeling in horror at the prospect of your pages being overrun with angry trolls, don’t. Deleting such content is never the answer, as satisfying as it may be. It only emboldens your opponents to be censored, and denies your supporters the chance to sharpen their proverbial claws. It’s a far better practice in the long run to engage and defeat ideological opponents in any forum–and our own comment threads are a fine example of this principle working just fine over the course of many years.
So let a hundred flowers bloom! It’s the law, and it’ll be fine.