Six Residents Sue Illinois Official for Blocking Them in the Latest Social Media Lawsuit

Ever heard of Facebook? Unless you live under a rock, chances are you have. It’s one of the most widely known social media 📱 sites. As of now, it has more than 2.74 billion monthly active users, and it’s a common target for social media lawsuits.

Out of all its users, around 40% use Facebook as a news platform. It has become an important forum for political discussions, daily news updates, and community events.

Government bodies have their own Facebook accounts, like everyone else. They use them to promote upcoming events, budget 💸, and other important announcements. But what happens when government officials block people who oppose them and delete so-called “obscene” comments? You might think this only happens overseas, but this is exactly what’s happening in the state of Illinois. That’s where the new social media lawsuit comes in.

What Illinois Alderman Gardiner Allegedly Did

Known as the “Land of Lincoln,” Illinois is home to Chicago and is a key part of the Midwestern US. It’s also home to Alderman Jim Garder, who allegedly blocked residents on this Facebook page and deleted critical comments. Consequently, six residents of the 54th ward filed a federal class-action social media lawsuit against Gardiner on Thursday in the Northern District of Illinois.

Gardener purportedly uses his official page like a “barbeque 🍖 in his backyard.” He utilizes his official aldermanic Facebook page to keep people in his ward informed. Posts about public meetings, City Hall news, budget updates, and other community events abound.

However, Gardiner allegedly also blocks those who use the platform to speak 🎤 against him. He reportedly deletes ❌ comments posted to his page that he disagrees with as well.

Since his election, Gardiner has frequently limited participation at numerous community gatherings. He’s also barred media and ward residents from attending several sessions, allegedly to minimize criticism. 

The Social Media Lawsuit

According to the lawsuit, Ald. Jim Gardiner violated the First Amendment by removing or banning individuals who disagree with him on his official page. The six plaintiffs are all alleged opponents of the alderman. They say Gardiner deleted their comments or outright blocked their accounts from his official Facebook page. Gardiner allegedly started doing this when he entered his office in 2019.

The plaintiffs claim that everyone, regardless of their point of view, is allowed to speak up 💬 on community matters. Gardiner has yet to comment on the lawsuit.

Mark Weinberg, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said, “Plaintiffs are bringing this case because Alderman Gardiner treats his official page like a backyard barbecue. He has no right to select who can speak in a public forum about public concerns. He utilizes his political clout to suppress voices with whom he disagrees.”

The action also names the city. It alleges that different departments are “well aware” of Gardiner’s constitutional breaches, but that they have done nothing to address them.

“We Expected Better”

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs and other residents have filed more than 20 complaints about Gardiner’s behavior. They’ve contacted the Office of the Inspector General, the Chicago Board of Ethics, and the Chicago Law Department. However, nothing has changed, critics say. This is why the lawsuit purportedly mentions that the city “is liable because it acquiesced in Alderman Gardiner’s constitutional violations and permitted Gardiner to act with impunity.”

One of the plaintiffs, Steve Held from Old Irving Park, told the press, “We are pushing the city to enforce their own rules. I have no expectation that Gardiner is going to respect any rules or boundaries, but we expected better from the city.” 

Is Censorship on Public Pages Allowed?

The Chicago Board of Ethics stated that following its 2019 social media guidelines 📜 for municipal workers and elected officials, aldermen cannot ban citizens from their government page. This is according to a May 27 Twitter conversation between plaintiff Adam Vavrick and the Chicago Board of Ethics.

The board reportedly tweeted, “Our opinion is clear that elected officials can block whomever they wish for whatever reason from their personal or political pages, but not their official government pages or those that function as such.”

However, according to the opinion signed by Chairman William Conlon, the aldermen may delete some comments posted to their page. These include comments that are “obscene, profane, libelous or defamatory, or are commercial and posted to sell goods or services.” The plaintiffs claim that none of their statements met these criteria.

What’s Next in the Social Media Lawsuit?

This is not the only lawsuit against Gardiner. Gardiner is also facing a federal complaint. In that case, a man claims the alderman wrongly accused him of a crime. Gardiner allegedly blamed the man for stealing a ward superintendent’s smartphone, harassed him, and then sent police to arrest him 👮‍♀️.

This lawsuit is also just a drop in an ocean 🌊 of lawsuits against officials who misused social media to silence differing opinions. With the growth of social media, government officials are constantly finding ways to use it to silence their opposers. While in office, former President Donald Trump was, for example, known to ban detractors on his personal Twitter account. The Supreme Court ⚖️ decided in 2019 that he could not lawfully ban anyone on his official account. In 2020, lower courts affirmed the judgment.

Considering the importance and wide reach of social media these days, officials trying to control the narrative may find it doesn’t go as planned. If you feel you’ve been censored by an elected official, contact us today to go over your options.