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ACLU of RI Calls on State Agency to Stop Blocking Twitter Users

Posted: October 08, 2018|Category: Free Speech

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In a letter recently sent to the state R.I. Department of Transportation, the ACLU of RI called on the agency to “immediately unblock any individuals who are currently being blocked from the @RIDOTNews Twitter account.” The ACLU sent the letter after receiving a complaint from a Twitter user who was blocked from the account after posting tweets that were critical of work being done on a RIDOT project near his residence. In response, DOT officials have indicated plans to unblock all blocked accounts, but the ACLU said it would sue if the unblocking did not occur promptly.

The ACLU's letter to RIDOT director Peter Alviti noted:

“While the use of social media is a relatively new phenomenon, there can be little questionof its importance as a platform for freedom of speech on vital public matters. @RIDOTnews, like other government Twitter accounts, serves as a public forum for the dissemination and receipt of useful, and sometimes essential, information. The Department simply does not have the authority to censor or otherwise block individuals from access to, or participation in, this forum because it disagrees with the viewpoints they express. Indeed, this blocking not only deprives residents of their ability to directly speak to RIDOT through this medium, it also bars them from access to timely transportation-related information and alerts.”

The letter emphasized “the important role that social media now play in democratic discourse. Their use to speak out on public matters and to petition the government for redress of grievances is an exercise of, and protected by, the First Amendment. In short, the ability of constituents to be able to express their views to both elected and appointed officials is crucial in a democratic society, and Twitter, Facebook and other social media are simply 21st Century ways of doing that.”

Brown said the ACLU would like to hear from residents blocked from the Twitter accounts of any other state agency as well.

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