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ACLU: Nebraska lawmakers shouldn’t block on social media

March 2, 2018

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The ACLU of Nebraska wants public officials not to block critics from expressing their views on government-affiliated social media accounts.

The Nebraska ACLU sent letters to officials on Thursday encouraging them to correct problems before the organization resorts to legal action, the Omaha World-Herald reported . The organization has received complaints regarding U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, the state’s congressional delegation and the York County Sheriff’s Office.

Elected officials who block people from official accounts are violating the First Amendment, said Amy Miller, the Nebraska ACLU’s legal director.

“We would not tolerate a government agency kicking a concerned constituent out of a public hearing just because they disagree with an elected official,” Miller said. “The same principles apply in the digital age.”

Officials should stop blocking access to official accounts, stop deleting critical comments and give access back to those who’d been blocked, the Nebraska ACLU said. Lawmakers can also maintain private accounts if they don’t use them to conduct official government business or can delete their official accounts entirely since there is no requirement to have a presence on social media, the organization said.

A spokeswoman for Fischer said staff members are reviewing settings on the senator’s social media pages.

Stothert said she doesn’t block people for criticizing her on Facebook, but she does hide comments and ban posters who violate her Facebook page’s terms of use. Omaha’s law department helped draft the terms, which say Stothert can remove inappropriate or offensive comments and that those who promote racism or violate the rules may be banned from posting. Some posts to her page included vulgar language and name-calling.

“I don’t want to leave these things on there,” Stothert said, noting that her page is viewed by young people.

U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith and U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse don’t block critics from their social media pages, according to spokespeople for both lawmakers.

The ACLU has filed lawsuits in Kentucky, Maine and Maryland over officials blocking constituents.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

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