ACLU of Indiana lawsuit says Boone County blocked resident from Facebook page

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit last week against Boone County alleging the county violated a resident’s First Amendment rights when it blocked him from the county’s Facebook page.

Kevin Dininger commented on an April 14 post about delays on a justice center expansion, according to the complaint. He wrote he intended to vote for Boone County commissioner candidate Tim Beyer, who challenged and defeated incumbent Tom Santelli in the May 3 Republican primary.

The county responded by “limiting or disabling any comments on the post, which had the effect of deleting Mr. Dininger’s comment,” the complaint filed Thursday says.

The lawsuit alleges Boone County blocked Dininger after he posted about the incident on his personal Facebook page.

Dininger frequently shares his opinion about county issues on the county Facebook page and blocking him represents “viewpoint-based discrimination,” according to the complaint.

The ACLU of Indiana requested in the lawsuit that Boone County unblock Dininger, restore his comments, prohibit the county from blocking Dininger again in the future and require the county provide notice before blocking people from its Facebook page.

“The First Amendment protects people, who regardless of their views, attempt to hold the government accountable through expression,” ACLU of Indiana senior attorney Gavin M. Rose said in a written statement. “Boone County’s practice of silencing citizens on Facebook who are critical of the county’s actions is unconstitutional.”

The Boone County Commissioners issued a statement Tuesday morning acknowledging the ACLU lawsuit.

“The Boone County Commissioners have received a complaint from the ACLU and take these allegations very seriously,” the statement said. “A thorough internal investigation has been launched into the matter. Updates will be provided and a response will be issued at the conclusion of this investigation. The Commissioners are strong proponents of the First Amendment and believe in everyone’s right to free speech.”

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5 thoughts on “ACLU of Indiana lawsuit says Boone County blocked resident from Facebook page

  1. Boone County could save itself a lot of pain by simply disabling the comment function on its Facebook Page. County residents have ample other means to express their viewpoints on government issues both directly and indirectly, from sending an email to elected officials to writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper to standing outside the county courthouse on a soapbox and speaking loudly. Each of these options, in addition to many others, fulfill the rights to free speech and to petition the government over grievances. End of story.

  2. Any unit of government that decides to have a presence on social media must be willing to expect that people are going to use that space to criticize them. And so long as they do so in a way that’s appropriate, it’s really an opportunity for government officials to demonstrates they are accountable and what they’re doing is transparent. Yes, it’s that simple. Based on the reporting, a citizen made a complaint and based on the experience decided they were going to vote for someone else to hold that office. Limiting comment on a post is something that the person, who is responsible for managing it, needs to be thoughtful in how that is done and banning someone should only be a last resort or a response to someone whose comments are inappropriate (i.e. personal attack, language, etc.). If you look at a lot of government social media pages, there are disclaimers that can be posted and used in a way that’s fair and balanced. What you can’t or shouldn’t do is let a public official decide that because they don’t like someone criticizing them that it’s OK to ban someone from making a comment. All of that is part of being a public official. Boone County should put the comments back on (if they’ve taken anything down), “un-ban” this person and adopt a reasonable policy going forward. It would save a lot of lawyering and more than a few tax dollars.

  3. Close the comments section. As a current Boone County resident, all the local Facebook groups are absolute cesspools of ignorance, thinly veiled racism, and personal attacks.