The ACLU-NH has joined a federal lawsuit as amicus curiae challenging the Town of Farmington’s social media policy banning Town employees from making comments that “negatively affect the public perception of the town.” This social media policy is patently overbroad, violates the First Amendment, and hinders government accountability. The ACLU-NH’s amicus brief is here. By way of background, the complaint the plaintiff filed in this case is here.
Unfortunately, Farmington’s social media policy impedes broad categories of expression and chills potential speech by employees before it happens, including speech that is of significant public importance. Indeed, Farmington’s ban on “negative” speech concerning the Town is a virtual blanket prohibition on all social media speech that is critical of the Town.
Granite staters do not lose their right to free speech when they become government employees. As the United States Supreme Court has held, public employees may not be compelled to relinquish the First Amendment rights they would otherwise enjoy as citizens to comment on matters of public interest. Underlying this principle is the recognition that public employees are often the members of the community who are likely to have informed opinions as to the operations of their public employers – operations which are of substantial concern to the public. Allowing these speakers to comment about government activities, including on social media and to the press, is critical to government accountability.
Yet Farmington’s social media policy banning "negative" speech would, for example, ban a Town employee from exposing to the public their boss’s corruption. This is precisely the type of speech that the First Amendment protects.
Farmington’s social media policy is exceptionally overbroad, and the ACLU-NH asks the federal court to strike it down as unconstitutional. In the fall of 2017, this case settled before the Court could rule on this issue.