Texas Case to Test Limits of Social Media Free Speech

A free speech case out of Texas that is now in the hands of an appeals court could test the limit of what you can say online, Newsradio 1200 WOAI reports.  

Deanna Robinson of Hunt County was blocked on Facebook by the Hunt County Sheriff’s Department for making critical comments.  She sued, arguing her Free Speech rights were violated.  Lawyers for the Sheriffs Department argue that Facebook is not a public forum.

Josh Blackman, who teaches about the intersection of law and technology at the South Texas College of Law says, traditionally, the government cannot restrict someone's speech in a public forum.

"When a government official blocks a person on social media because of their views, they're engaging on what is called viewpoint discrimination," he explains.

The case comes at a time when a growing number of governmental agencies use social media to get out their message.  Law enforcement use platforms like Facebook and Twitter to convey important public safety messages.

But Blackman cautions that a one-size-fits-all approach to free speech online falls short. 

 One example?  A government agency distributing information about vaccinations online, only to see the post hijacked by anti-vaccine activists.  In that case, it could be argued that blocking comments is needed for public safety.

"There might be cases where public forums might have a limit on what can be posted, but as a general matter, denying people access to information goes too far."

The case is one of the first to question online speech to make it to an appellate court, so how the judges rule could set legal precedent.  

The court could either rule with Robinson and send the case back to a trial court with specific instructions, or they could agree with the trial court, which dismissed the case, and set up a possible run to the Supreme Court.

Oral arguments were made on Thursday.  The case is now in the hands of the judges, who could rule at any time. 

The popularity of social media is relatively new, and the high court has yet to take on a case that deals with the limits of free speech online.


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