LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky citizens do not have a First Amendment right to “a heckler’s veto,” or “unfettered access” to post whatever they want on Gov. Matt Bevin’s social media accounts, attorneys for Bevin say in court records.
In a motion asking a judge to deny a request by the ACLU to prevent Bevin from blocking constituents to his social media feeds, Bevin argues citizens do not have a constitutional right to “drown out the Governor’s message by hijacking his social media accounts with their own commentary.”
Last month, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit asking for an injunction to prevent Bevin from banning or blocking individuals from his official social media accounts, arguing it is a free speech violation.
Bevin’s attorneys argue citizens are not being blocked or banned for negative comments, but for “airing commentary unrelated to the topics chosen by discussion” by Bevin.
Such “off-topics comments” distract from Bevin’s message and are not being made in a traditional public forum, the administration argued in a response filed last week.
In fact, Bevin’s attorneys argue citizens have been blocked for expressing “positive off-topic comments.”
In a response this week, the ACLU noted that many off-topic comments are not removed by Bevin’s team. In one example, a person talked about former President Obama even though the topic was the eclipse.
In Bevin's response, attorneys argued the governor created official Facebook and Twitter accounts to “communicate his vision” and receive feedback on specific topics, not as an open public forum for general discussion, according to the response.
As part of its social media policy, the governor’s office filters out comments with expletives and other words that appear in off-topic comments and spam. And obscene and abusive comments are not allowed.
Without these controls, the “Governor’s social media accounts would quickly devolve into a cyber-Wild-West with no direction or clarity of thought,” according to the motion.
In addition, Bevin’s attorneys argue, Bevin does not completely block anyone from viewing his social media accounts. A person who has been blocked can see Bevin’s post by logging out of their account.
“In other words, blocks apply to accounts, not individuals themselves,” the administration argues.
In its response, the ACLU countered that argument is “at best, a fundamental misunderstanding of the social media platforms because creating new accounts for that purposes violates the terms of service for both Facebook and Twitter.” Citizens also cannot interact with the governor or others when they are blocked, the ACLU argues.
And the ACLU argues that, even if that was permissible, it is still an unlawful prior restraint on speech.
In addition, blocking people for posting off topic is an “unreasonable regulation of speech,” the ACLU argues.
The governor’s response to the ACLU lawsuit goes into detail about the reasons why one of the three plaintiffs were blocked.
Drew Morgan made four comments about Bevin’s property taxes on Twitter posts “that had nothing to do with the topic. In other words, Plaintiff Morgan admits that he was ‘spamming’ the Governor’s Twitter account with off-topic comments,” the motion claims.
This issue, according to Bevin's response, has already been decided in a recent case out of Loudoun County, Virginia, where the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s social media policy prohibited “off-topic comments.”
The court concluded the prosecution’s Facebook page was a “limited public forum” and restricting comments were reasonable, Bevin’s attorneys argue.
Bevin’s response also hinted that should the ACLU prevail, the governor would shut down his social media.
“As a result, the unprecedented transparency and access to government that has been provided by social media would be jeopardized.”
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