The realm of social media has been something of a minefield for public officials. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Tik Tok or some other digital realm where folks gather to gab, scroll or troll, you’ll find plenty of elected officials trying to communicate their messages directly to the masses.
The problem — whether you’re a U.S. president or town councilman — is that your message can get overrun with opposite-minded folks. But where the average social media user can simply delete unwanted material from their pages, elected officials can’t. A number of courts have ruled that deleting opposing or unwanted comments or viewpoints abridges that person’s First Amendment rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court calls social media sites “the modern public square,” where constituents can “petition their elected representatives and otherwise engage with them in a direct manner.”
None of which has stopped elected officials from deleting and hiding comments they don’t like or agree with or that they consider “off topic.” But just because they all do it doesn’t mean we should accept it. But given the bountiful case law, does it merit yet another federal lawsuit? Apparently so.
A Federal Case?
James Moore and Beth Ann Pratte, two Moore County residents already suing the Board of Education over another matter, joined forces with the same Raleigh attorney to file a federal lawsuit in the Middle District of North Carolina last month charging that board members Stacey Caldwell, Libby Carter and Ed Dennison deleted comments of theirs from their pages.
Interestingly, the legal outrage appears to be situational. Moore and Pratte left out of the lawsuit other board members who have also deleted, hidden or redirected comments from their various pages over the past year. Board member David Hensley admits he hired his own lawyer earlier this year when he was called out for removing content on his page.
Moore and Pratte’s other lawsuit is filed in state court and seeks to block the sale of the former Southern Pines Primary School campus to the West Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust. That suit alleges an open sale to the highest bidder is the proper way to go.
Moore and Pratte have spoken out against face mask mandates and other policy issues at previous board meetings. In this newest suit, they say their First Amendment rights were violated when certain comments were removed from Facebook pages by Caldwell, Carter and Dennison.
The comments themselves are all relatively minor: “You’re a big disappointment,” Pratte wrote on Dennison’s page. “You need to take a class on the constitution. RINO.”
OK, not exactly the Federalist Papers, but a federal case?
Let’s be clear: We stand for the First Amendment and against elected officials who seek to delete content on their social media pages. If you’re going to communicate directly to the people, you’d better be prepared to hear directly from the people, too.
And it doesn’t matter if you say it’s not an “official” page, so you can do what you want — we’re looking at you, Bob Levy. Levy says his page is “not a public or gov. page” but then adorns the top with a giant yellow school bus and posts comments about school business and politics. If you’re on social media and you’re an elected official, you’re stuck with the fanboys and the trolls. Get over it.
As for this being grounds for a federal lawsuit, it’s all just meant to distract and waste time and government money. No federal judge is going to let this case go forward. It’s really about public embarrassment. Frankly, we’re all embarrassed — of all the parties involved.
In one of Pratte’s undeleted comments on Carter’s page, she asks, “When will the board of education start to focus on education?”
Maybe when they can stop dealing with all the antics and breathless embellishments.