Social Media has changed the way we speak to one another and connect with our public officials, but not all of it is good or welcome, at least according to the elected officials of one city in the south downtown of Atlanta, Georgia. Peachtree City and Peachtree Corners government are looking to bring the full force of the government down on those who use their social media accounts to defame public officials.
The Peachtree City government ordinance, which is likely to be adopted, will allow for city elected officials to use taxpayer funds to sue the very constituents they represent. Additionally, the city can take legal and civil action against the media company that may have printed the words or grievances against the city officials. The ordinance will be the very first of its kind in the United States, a nation founded on the very idea of redress of grievances with government officials and freedom of speech, petition, and press.
Peachtree City officials have stated in no uncertain terms that for any lawsuit to be filed that the conduct will have to rise to the legal standards regarding slander or defamation. Should the city win the lawsuit, the defendant will be forced to pay the city legal fees, the attorney fees, and restitution delivered by the court. Since these matters will likely be held in Superior Court the defendant risks thousands of dollars in legal fees before action even begins. Making the potential airing of grievances incredibly costly.
In recent years, as social media use has become more widespread and accepted as a means for elected officials to speak with their constituents and vice versa, the rules regarding these discussions have been thrust into the spotlight both locally and nationally. Several courts across the United States have made free speech rulings regarding the use of social media between the two.
Several Twitter users have been blocked by the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump and have petitioned the court to restore their ability to communicate directly with the President. The court agreed, airing on the side of free speech advocates and ordered the President’s accounts to unblock all of the users, allowing them full access to the President’s tweets and the ability to tag him in posts. In Georgia, the state chapter American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), has taken the side of constituents and free speech advocates as well.
The Georgia ACLU has kept track of comments being deleted from prominent Facebook Pages and how many users have been blocked, sending letters on behalf of those who have had their voices silenced.
As social media continues to grow, and we learn more about its effects, the conversations we have over what can and should govern our actions on the sites will only amplify. The court cases surrounding this ordinance, should it pass, will have reverberating effects across the nation for years to come.