Free Speech

Flash Mobs, Social Media, and the First Amendment


“Flash mobs” are groups of people, organized via social media, who suddenly assemble in a set location. Some of these gatherings have resulted in violence or destruction of property, and as a result, a number of Ohio communities are proposing prohibitions for social media use that may result in criminal activity.

These proposals are overbroad, potentially criminalizing protected speech, and are unnecessary, as the criminal acts that cities seek to punish are already crimes.

In July, 2011 ACLU of Ohio expressed concern over one such proposal, passed by Cleveland City Council after a large group of “unruly teenagers” caused a disturbance at a Cleveland Heights street fair. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson promptly struck down the legislation, his first-ever veto.

In December, Cleveland City Council again passed legislation targeting social media. The ACLU called the legislation a waste of time and resources and once again called on Mayor Jackson to use his veto power. However, the Mayor took no action and the allowed the ordinances to become law. The ACLU of Ohio continues to monitor the results of this unwise legislation, as well as a curfew in Cleveland Heights that was passed as an emergency measure to prevent flash mobs, but has yet to be relaxed.