Cleveland’s mayor, and two city councilman trying to replace him, defended their ability to block social media users, whose statements they deemed offensive. But critics argued blocking users from contacting public officials online is a violation of the First Amendment.
Cleveland resident Gary Bunofsky hardly tweeted a word before he said Mayor Frank Jackson blocked him. It came during an exchange on Twitter, where Jackson’s opponent, Zack Reed, tweeted about a lack of 911 dispatchers.
Someone else commented, “Don’t worry. A dirt bike track will fix all of this.” Then Bunofsky chimed in, merely mentioned Jackson’s twitter handle, with no additional comment, before Bunofsky said he was blocked.
"Many people think the safety of our citizens is a much more valid concern than a dirt bike,” Bunofsky told News 5. “It’s kind of mind-boggling that someone in public office would be able to block me for not even saying anything harassing.”
it’s a debate raging nationwide. Recently, a Virginia judge said a public official that blocked someone on Facebook violated the First Amendment. The ACLU of Ohio agreed.
“We live in a world where social media and the internet is the modern public square,” ACLU of Ohio attorney Elizabeth Bonham said, “And so for public officials to silence viewpoints or to chill dissent in that forum is highly suspect.”
But Jackson’s not the only one. Reed is known to block people too and Councilman Jeff Johnson blocked a man after a tweet referencing Johnson’s 1998 felony extortion conviction, telling Johnson he’s not allowed to be offended by the word pump because, “You pimped those businesses.”
“I rarely block,” Johnson told News 5. "It’s only when they get disrespectful and personal because of my past mistakes.”
Reed said the people he blocked were commenting on his private Twitter handled, not his public one.
"it’s just like my telephone. I don’t have to answer every phone call that comes through,” Reed said. "It’s a private Twitter page.”
Mayor Jackson chose to send a statement through his campaign spokesman that read in part, "We will block Twitter users who are offensive, threatening or profane.”
But Bunofsky said there was nothing profane about simply mentioning the mayor.
“I would like to be unblocked,” he said. "I’m not really looking to stir the pot or anything, I just want to he heard.”