An ACLU letter sent to Kansas Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook, 10th District, has resonated with at least one Gardner resident.
Wes Rains, Gardner, recently sent a letter to Lee Moore, Gardner councilman, requesting Moore “unblock” his ability to post to Moore’s official city councilman’s Facebook page.
“Recently, a more famous public official (state Senator) has practiced the same form of censorship that you have, and she now has been asked by the ACLU to cease this behavior,” Rains said in his e-mail. “I believe this to be a similar situation, and am considering writing to the ACLU myself to appeal to your better nature and judgement, but before I do that, I am asking you myself as a Gardner citizen and constituent and voter.”
Rains attached the American Civil Liberties Union July 5, 2017, letter to Sen. Pilcher Cook in his email to Moore.
According to the ACLU’s letter, blocking opposing views violates citizens’ well established First Amendment rights to criticize elected officials and express opinions of public concern. Censoring a constituent’s viewpoint violates the First Amendment’s Speech Clause.
According to Moore’s response received by Rains and supplied to The Gardner News, “I am not required by ordinance or by statute to maintain an official Facebook page. Therefore, my social media activity, all of it, is a completely private endeavor. In fact, all of the content I place on my page, is licensed to Facebook by virtue of the EULA they make you sign when you create the account. In fact, because they own the platform, they may even elect to “censor” me, should they so desire. So, to make the argument that I can somehow violate your First Amendment rights from within a platform that I do not own or otherwise have any authority over, beyond that licensed to me by the owner of the platform, and that I am not even legally obligated to use for official business is absolutely laughable. I mean, what are you going to do if Facebook bans you for violating their terms of service? Will you claim that is also a violation of your First Amendment right? Thanks for the laugh. “
“You may engage with me anywhere you find me in public, over the phone, and through my official email just like constituents who have no access to Facebook. You may also share content from my page on CFG and engage me there. Until I am required by statute to maintain an official public social media presence, I will reserve the right to control the content associated with my name.”
That said, I think you were banned only because you were backing the opposition and got obnoxious with me when I was running for office and this page was serving as my campaign page. However, I checked and you are not even banned and have not been banned for a very long time. If I do ban you in the future, maybe all it takes is asking me nicely instead of threatening me. Enjoy your weekend.
According to Doug Bonney, Kansas legal director for the ACLU, “Social media has become an essential tool of communications between elected officials and their constituents, and blocking someone from an official’s Facebook page violates the First Amendment and the well-established right of the public to criticize elected officials. On July 5, we sent a letter to Senator Pilcher-Cook outlining these concerns and requesting that she cease censoring the comments on her page and reinstate those who have been blocked.”
In an e mail to The Gardner News, Moore said there was not anyone currently blocked on his social media page, although he admits Rains was temporarily blocked during Moore’s election campaign two years ago. He also says he is unclear when Rains was unblocked.
“Nobody is currently blocked from posting comments on the “Lee Moore Gardner City Councilman” Facebook page,” Moore wrote. However, he indicates that he reserves the right to limit abusive or harassing language and makes note that the social media platform is not required nor government owned. Moore says he will not be bullied, but that he will not try to use his Facebok page to silence opposing opinions.
“Thus, Mr. Rains’ email to me and the rest of the Governing Body was received by me as an ignorant, ill-conceived, and unprovoked threat,” he writes. “Although, the ACLU is an organization which holds no authority over me or the City of Gardner. Nevertheless, I will not be bullied. Likewise, I cannot and will not try to use my Facebook page as a tool to silence people who hold opposing opinions. However, I will also not tolerate comments from people who are unable or unwilling to maintain civility and basic relevance to the topic being discussed.’
The complete text of his response is adjacent to this story.
Since the ACLU’s letter was sent, it appears the problem with censorship is more widespread than originally thought, said Bonney, ACLU. “There’s a lot more of this than I realized,” he said.
“The core first amendment right is to speak and be heard by your elected officials,” Bonney continued. “When elected officials censor those voices, they are violating the First Amendment’s core principle.”
If elected officials don’t voluntarily comply by allowing constituents to comment, Bonney said other options will be considered.
“We will evaluate our options,” Bonney said. At this point, there are no individual lawsuits anticipated, but it may become necessary to file a lawsuit.
“ACLU’s around the country are looking at this,” Bonney said. Currently, there is at least one ACLU branch preparing a lawsuit.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s website says, “Last month, we were contacted by a constituent of the 10th District of Kansas who had been blocked from the official Facebook page of Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook, the state senator representing her district. The constituent was blocked after leaving comments on the page expressing opposition to the policy stances taken by Senator Pilcher-Cook, which were also subsequently deleted.
The ACLU’s letter to Pilcher-Cook is available online at: https://www.aclukansas.org/en/news/aclu-letter-senator-pilcher-cook-regarding-facebook-page-censorship
As of July 11, Rains said his posts to Moore’s page were still blocked.