The ACLU of Arizona has filed a lawsuit challenging United States Congressman Paul Gosar’s “blocking” and censoring of constituents critical of his political views and job performance from commenting, and in some cases viewing, his official pubic social media accounts.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two current constituents of Gosar. J’aime Morgaine, a resident of Kingman, Arizona, and a founder of Indivisible Kingman; and Paul Hamilton, a resident of Prescott, and a founder of Indivisible Prescott.
Challenging his policy of censoring constituents’ speech on his official Facebook page by blocking those who disagree with him and deleting the comments, the ACLU of Arizona argues that Gosar has chilled and infringed on Morgaine and Hamilton’s right to express opposing viewpoints in online public forums. In violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Due Process of the Fourteenth Amendment, Gosar’s decisions to block his constituents come with no prior notice, warning, or opportunity to be heard, and no avenue for appeal.
When a government official creates an online public forum for constituent expression, the First Amendment prohibits the official from banning persons or censoring comments that express opposing or critical viewpoints. As Arizona’s Fourth Congressional District representative, Gosar’s case is one of the more clear-cut instances across the country of viewpoint discrimination in a forum created by a government office specifically for the purpose of communicating with constituents.
Although legal challenges to censorship on government social media sites are a relatively new phenomenon, courts that have addressed the issue have made clear that viewpoint-based censorship on social media is not permitted under the First Amendment.
The national ACLU and ACLU of Arizona have a long history of protecting the First Amendment rights of the public, including the ability to access and seek redress from public officials. Increasingly, social media is becoming a valuable and preferred tool for politicians to communicate their views and policies to the public, and for the public to provide criticism, support, and feedback to public officials. Protecting the rights of constituents to communicate with public officials through online mediums is essential to continuing to protect the First Amendment rights of the public in the future. Public social media sites run by government officials should not become forums where dissenting voices are excluded.