LINCOLN, Neb – Today the ACLU of Nebraska sent a letter to six Nebraska elected officials and one county sheriff after receiving complaints of Nebraska residents being blocked from government social media accounts. A growing number of elected officials have faced lawsuits after blocking constituents on social media. The ACLU of Nebraska is sending the letters proactively to educate elected officials about these important issues in hope of correcting problems prior to exploring litigation.
The letters were sent to U.S. Senator Deb Fischer, U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, U.S. Representative Adrian Smith, U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry, U.S. Representative Don Bacon, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, and the York County Sheriff’s office. The ACLU received multiple complaints regarding U.S. Senator Fischer and Omaha Mayor Stothert, which the ACLU says is particularly concerning.
“Blocking someone from viewing public information on a government operated social media page is a clear violation of the First Amendment. We would not tolerate a government agency kicking a concerned constituent out of a public hearing just because they disagree with an elected official. The same principals apply in the digital age. When an elected official or government agency is using social media to communicate with the public, the government cannot pick and choose who gets to see that information. If a government official wants to maintain a private account, they certainly have the right to do so. But that private account cannot be used to conduct official government business,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller.
Officials in Kentucky, Maine and Maryland are currently facing lawsuits filed by the ACLU on behalf of constituents who were blocked on social media. An additional case is pending in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. In Nebraska, the ACLU says it hopes to avoid litigation by providing this guidance to government officials.
“The law is clear and it is easy for government officials to comply with it. We’re providing this guidance to members of the public as well as elected officials in the hopes that Nebraskans who wish to be a ‘watchful citizen’ are able to do so in whatever venues the government interacts with the public, including on social media,” said Miller.
This release and a copy of the letter to U.S. Fischer is available online: https://www.aclunebraska.org/en/press-releases/aclu-warns-elected-officials-government-agencies-against-blocking-members-public