ACLU Sues South Bend Over Common Council Social Media Ordinance

Social Media

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has filed a lawsuit against the city of South Bend over its recently-passed ordinance that regulates social media and Internet usage. The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Indiana in South Bend on behalf of Councilman Oliver Davis (6th District).

The ACLU claims that the ordinance violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. The organization threatened a lawsuit prior to the ordinance passing on the Common Council.

The ordinance prohibits the posting of “obscene” images or videos on social media accounts. Offenders who violate the ordinance would be subject to a council reprimand, removal of city-owned technology privileges, or a ban from posting on the Council’s Facebook account.

A modified version of the ordinance removed the term “offensive” — which was seen as overly broad — and struck language that would have extended its regulations to privately-owned technology. Other changes included the removal of language requiring councilmembers to monitor their social media pages and a requirement that posts be “based on sustainable facts which can be verified.”

The ordinance still covers councilmembers’ privately-run social media accounts.

“Ordinance No. 10343-14, passed by the common council on Dec. 9 and signed by the mayor, places several extreme restrictions on council members’ use of Facebook, Twitter, email and other electronic communications, going so far as to attempt to control what others post on the members’ own social networking sites. The ordinance effectively stifles their First Amendment rights to communicate as members of the common council,” the ACLU said in a news release.

“Elected officials retain their First Amendment rights,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “The ordinance simply goes too far in trying to impinge on these rights.”

“I firmly believe as members of the South Bend Common Council, that in making our laws for the people of South Bend, we should be making laws that are in keeping with the U.S. Constitution,” said Council President Oliver Davis. “This is what all council members and our mayor swore to when we were elected.”

The Common Council voted 6-2 in favor of the ordinance on December 8. The members opposing the ordinance were Councilman Oliver Davis and Councilman Henry Davis Jr. Councilwoman Valerie Schey was not present.

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