People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is suing two federal agencies for violating its free speech rights on social media.
Filed on September 9th in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, PETA alleges that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) “blocked comments posted to the agencies’ social media accounts based on the viewpoint and/or content of that speech.”
See our Teacher Guide on Public Officials Blocking Critics on Social Media
PETA, an animal rights advocacy group, opposes the government’s use of primate testing for research purposes, and alleges that when its employees have posted comments about this on the NIH’s and HHS’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, the agencies routinely hide their comments by “using keyword blocking tools to prevent certain words and phrases associated with disfavored viewpoints, content, or speakers—like ‘PETA’ and ‘#stopanimaltesting’—from appearing on its social media pages.”
“Defendants’ actions violate the First Amendment. Multiple courts have held that government-run social media accounts that are open for comments from the general public are public forums,” the complaint reads. “It is well-settled that the government may not, consistent with the First Amendment, exclude speech from such forums based on viewpoint or unjustifiable content-based restrictions. Defendants’ viewpoint-discriminatory and content-based suppression of comments about animal testing violates Plaintiffs’ right to speak in a public forum. It also violates their right to read the speech of others who have used blocked keywords in comments.”
PETA is asking the court to declare that the agencies’ viewpoint-and-content-based blocking on their social media sites is unconstitutional, and also require the HHS and NIH to remove the keyword blocking filters associated with animal rights advocacy.