The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Henry County Sheriff, John Sproles, for blocking a user and deleting a Facebook comment critical of the Sheriff.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Kristopher Bilbrey, alleges that the Sheriff’s practices consist of “deleting” comments posted by Facebook users that he believes to be unfavorable or critical of his positions, while simultaneously allowing comments that are favorable to or supportive of him to be viewed by the public. This represents viewpoint-based discrimination, in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Bilbrey is a political commentator who hosts or co-hosts multiple podcasts. When he noticed that Sheriff Sproles had posted part of a video that Bilbrey had taken for one of his podcasts, Bilbrey commented on the post, expressing concern that the video had been republished without attribution and that it was being used to support a position that the video did not support. Within an hour, Sheriff Sproles deleted Bilbrey’s comment and then blocked Bilbrey from his official Facebook page altogether.
“The interactive portion of a public official’s Facebook page is considered a public forum, thus public officials cannot block constituents from commenting because of the opinions they hold,” said Gavin M. Rose, ACLU of Indiana Senior Attorney. “Sheriff Sproles’s action of silencing a citizen on Facebook who is critical of his positions is unconstitutional.”
This is one of several social media censorship cases the ACLU of Indiana has filed in recent years in an effort to stop this pattern of unconstitutional behavior.