CONCORD – The ACLU of New Hampshire has sought permission to join a federal lawsuit challenging the Town of Farmington’s social media policy banning Town employees from (i) making comments that “negatively affect the public perception of the town” and (ii) disclosing any information which “they have access [to] as a result of their position without permission from the appropriate authority.” These social media policies are patently overbroad, violate the First Amendment, and hinder government accountability. The ACLU-NH’s amicus brief is attached. By way of background, also attached is the complaint the plaintiff has filed in this case.
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 speech critical of the Town.
“Granite staters do not lose their right to free speech when they become government employees,” said Gilles Bissonnette, the Legal Director of the ACLU of New Hampshire. “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 his boss’s corruption. This is precisely the type of speech that the First Amendment protects. Similarly, the policy’s requirement of seeking pre-clearance before conveying non-confidential work-related information would inhibit criticism and the ability of the press to collect information about the government.”
Farmington’s social media policy is exceptionally overbroad, and the ACLU-NH asks the federal court to strike it down as unconstitutional.