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Township Residents, Trustee Settle Facebook 'Block' Lawsuit

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Most public officials or departments have some social media presence from the President of the United States on Twitter (who tweets from two different accounts) to the local township trustee on Facebook. And these accounts can raise some interesting First Amendment issues, especially when it comes to blocking access to posts.

Just a few months ago, Twitter users blocked by President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit claiming they are being denied access to a public forum. Likewise, in Ohio, residents in Warren County sued the Hamilton Township Trustee for censoring differing opinions on his public official Facebook page. While the former lawsuit is still being litigated, the latter was settled last week, with David Wallace, Jr. agreeing to unblock residents and stop deleting posts.

Taxpayer Dollars and Taxpayer Sense

U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott approved the settlement requiring Wallace to unblock "any other social media site, or webpage established by Wallace arising out of public, not personal, circumstances or maintained for the purpose of providing information to the public, communicating with his constituents, or otherwise used as a tool of governance."

The residents' lawsuit claimed Wallace began blocking users and deleting posts after a discussion about privatizing the fire department in 2015. "It seems like Mr. Wallace only likes to keep the ones on there that are affirmative to how he feels about things," said one of the plaintiffs Lisa Wilson after the lawsuit was filed. "That's not how government is supposed to work. It's supposed to be that we can go and exchange ideas. My point is if you feel so strongly about your position than you should be able to vigorously defend it. You can't do that if you silence everybody."

Wallace, who also posts material relating to his re-election campaign to the page, had a different take. "The lawsuit was nonsense," Wallace said Friday. "It's a waste of taxpayer dollars. This is why it's difficult to find anyone to run for political office." The Dayton Daily News reports that, despite this difficulty, Wallace remains in the race for re-election to the Hamilton Township Board of Trustees.

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