Ferguson named in possible lawsuit

Published 8:23 pm Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia is threatening to sue four Georgia officials, including U.S. Congressman Drew Ferguson, for allegedly censoring critics on their Facebook pages.

The ACLU accused Ferguson, the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office, the Worth County Sheriff’s Office and the Henry County Police Department of deleting dissenting opinions on their Facebook pages.

Ferguson represents Georgia’s third Congressional district, which includes Troup County, and also formerly served as the mayor of West Point.

“Our democracy thrives when people can freely criticize elected officials — including yourself — so that the people you answer to can best determine whether you should remain in office,” the ACLU wrote in its letter to Ferguson. “The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia (ACLU-GA) writes this letter to address your office’s apparent attempt to silence your own constituents in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

In the letter, the ACLU accuses Ferguson’s Facebook page, “Congressman Drew Ferguson,” of deleting comments of Ellen Wright, a citizen of Grantville. The letter says Wright noticed on Aug. 2 that she was no longer able to post comments on Ferguson’s page, and that all her comments had been deleted.

The letter goes on to mention other examples where comments were allegedly deleted off of the page.

In the letter, the ACLU sent comments from Wright, and an email from Amy Timmerman, Ferguson’s communications manager, to Wright. In the email, Timmerman tells Wright that she is not banned from the page.

Ferguson could not be reached for comment. When the Daily News asked for an interview, Timmerman said the Congressman was not available, but said Ferguson had responded to the ACLU. Timmerman pointed the Daily News to Ferguson’s social media policy, which is available on his Facebook page.

“This policy is consistent with governing House Rules, Supreme Court and other judicial precedent, and widely accepted best practices,” Timmerman said in an email.

The ACLU wrote in its letter that it is unconstitutional for Ferguson to delete the comments because it is considered a limited public forum:

“It is unconstitutional for your office, a governmental entity, to silence the voices of those with whom you disagree. Because your government Facebook page has been opened for any member of the public to post comments, it is considered a ‘limited public forum’ under the law regardless of how your office might choose to characterize it. See Perry Educ. Ass’n v. Perry Local Educators’ Ass’n, 460 U.S. 37 (1983).

“And when a limited public forum has been created, it is unconstitutional for the government to discriminate against certain speakers because of the viewpoints they express. See Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of Univ. of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819, 829 (1995).

“Though legal challenges to censorship on government social media sites are a relatively new phenomenon, at least one court has already found that targeted censorship on government Facebook pages open for public comment is unconstitutional. See Davison v. Loudon County, 2016 WL 4801617 (E.D. Va. Sept. 14, 2016) and 2017 WL 58294 (E.D. Va. Jan. 4, 2017).”

This is not the first legal action threatened by the ACLU’s on the topic of social media censorship. According to the ALCU of Georgia website, the ACLU of Maryland and the ACLU of Maine are suing their governors for a similar situation. The ACLU of Pennsylvania is also asking a Pittsburgh city council member to stop deleting comments on social media.