First Amendment and Social Media in Federal Lawsuit Against City of Honolulu, Local Police

If municipal agencies establish Facebook or other social media pages, can they censor critical comments from among all other comments? That’s the question before the court in Hawaii, about the comments policy of the Honolulu Police Department’s Facebook page. Admittedly, a municipal agency could have a social media page with no comments allowed, but that wouldn’t be much of a social media page.

The plaintiffs’ contention, obviously, is that a local comments policy cannot trump First Amendment rights, should they apply:

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.”

See, First Amendment, Facebook, Cited in Federal Lawsuit Against City, Local Police | Hawaii Reporter.

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