AKRON, Ohio — An Akron man is suing Councilman Donnie Kammer for violating his first amendment rights after being blocked from posting on the councilman’s official Facebook page.
“I posted that I thought some of the issues in the neighborhood that needed to be focused on were the murders, robberies, speeding and litter,” plaintiff Brian Holb said.
Holb, who is an attorney, said he moved back to the Firestone Park neighborhood in 2017 and grew concerned about crime and deterioration of Ward 7.
When he voiced those concerns on Kammer’s Facebook page in January, he said his comment was then deleted and he was blocked from the page. Holb asserts his comments were not threatening and did not violate Facebook’s community policy.
Holb said he emailed Kammer asking to have his access restored, but the councilman did not do grant his request.
“I no longer had the ability to even comment,” Holb said. “The only way I was going to be able to get that restored and engage in these conversations with other people is to file this lawsuit.”
In his lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Holb claimed that the deletion of his post and ban from the page constitutes a violation of his freedom of speech and due process rights.
The lawsuit states Holb “has suffered loss of his constitutional right to freely express himself and suffered serious distress and humiliation.”
It seeks monetary damages and to have Holb’s access to the page and his deleted comment restored.
Holb said he filed the lawsuit after learning of the success of other similar cases.
“I think maybe they don’t realize that when you create these public Facebook pages they become just like any other public forum and that people have the right to be heard,” he said.
Last year, a federal judge in New York ruled President Donald Trump can not ban people from his Twitter page. In February, Ohio state Senator Joe Uecker, from the Cincinnati area, paid $20,000 to settle a lawsuit after blocking someone on Facebook.
“It’s not surprising,” said Darrell Clay, an attorney with Walter Haverfield who specializes in first amendment issues. “The use of social media by politicians everywhere inevitably raises questions about free expression.”
Clay said elected officials are bound by the first amendment to allow discussion and avoid censorship, including online.
“You chose to run for public office and serve your fellow citizens. Sometimes, that means you have to allow them to say things you don’t agree with. If you’re using social media for your official purposes, you have to tolerate those dissenting views,” Clay said.
Holb said since filing the lawsuit, Kammer has restored his access to the page but not restored the deleted comment. He said hopes the lawsuit sends a strong message to elected officials.
“Just because you may not agree with what I say, you may not agree with my viewpoint, you can’t discriminate against me for that,” Holb said.
Kammer declined to comment, saying he has not yet officially received the lawsuit paperwork. He only said Holb has “a long history of coming after me.”