Free Speech Press Release

12.06.11

New Social Media Ordinances Deserve Veto from Mayor Jackson, ACLU Says

Legislation Continues to Pose Threat to Free Speech

CLEVELAND – The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio urged Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson to once again veto legislation that would restrict people’s First Amendment rights on social media. On December 5, Cleveland City Council passed a trio of ordinances that would effectively criminalize residents who use social media to organize events that result in disturbances — even if the organizer did not intend nor urge criminal activity. In August 2011, Mayor Jackson used his first-ever veto to thwart similar legislation that would criminalize the use of social media.

“Mayor Jackson made the correct decision once before, and now he must act again to defend Clevelander’s First Amendment rights,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link. “Elected officials should encourage free speech and civic engagement, but these ordinances do the exact opposite. Activists will be fearful to organize events if they are held criminally liable for the actions of others outside their control.”

In addition to the social media ordinances, City Council passed a resolution supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement and their free speech rights. Throughout the nation, Occupy protesters have relied on social networking to organize their events.

“It is disappointing that in the same night city council members can pass a resolution supporting the Occupy movement and laws that would criminalize those same activists,” added Link. “If Occupy protesters continue to organize events through social media, they could be among the first criminalized under this misguided law.”

The legislation also did not address how police were to determine if social media was used, who used it, and to what extent. In 2009, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in State v. Antwuan Smith that law enforcement must have a warrant to search the contents of a cell phone or other similar electronic devices. Social networking accounts that have privacy settings enacted may also not be subject to search without a warrant.

“Cleveland already has laws that make rioting and other violent acts illegal. This legislation will only serve to waste police resources, punish innocent activists who exercise their First Amendment rights, and discourage residents from using technology to organize for social change. I hope Mayor Jackson will stop this unconstitutional and unwise legislation and city council focuses on the real problems affecting Clevelanders,” concluded Link.