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Free speech on city social media

frazier DAVID
FRAZIER

 
Boise
Guardian

Mike Murphy isn’t a quiet kinda guy. He will let you know how he feels right off the bat, just like he did on a Boise Police Facebook page a couple of years ago when he was critical of a copper.

The issue — which dealt with Murphy’s treatment as a taxi driver — is mostly forgotten, but his unfriendly comments got him blocked by BPD. He was also blocked from the Mayor’s site when he was critical of Hizzoner. None of the comments were profane, libelous, or slander…just critical. Murphy is now a BSU student.

Murphy recently shared an account of a series of events in HONOLULU where the argument was made that in these days of social media and digital communication, a PUBLIC page like Facebook or Twitter is common communication and subject to the First Amendment protection of free speech. In short, Facebook is little different than standing on the corner or attending a council meeting and voicing one’s opinion. Note: this discussion regards government operated sites, not private sites like the GUARDIAN or personal pages.

The GUARDIAN talked with Chief Bill Bones who talked with Murphy and City legal staff regarding free speech. Bones subsequently has instructed that EVERYONE who was ever blocked from commenting be reinstated on the PD Facebook pages. Legal tells us they have, “ensured all departments (including the mayor’s office) are up to speed on the issue.”

Both Murphy and Bones offered essentially the same quote about each other: “He seems like a very decent person and it’s good to have a public forum conducted in a civil manner.”

The GUARDIAN checked with other agencies and found a surprisingly tolerant attitude regarding website comments. Idaho State Police tell us only a couple of people have been banned for “inappropriate” postings (such as a photo of a child in a lewd conduct case). Meridian coppers have encouraged a “lively discourse” as long as there are no threats or other illegal conduct such as slander and libel. Ada County follows the same guidelines.

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