City Government

Free Speech Back On City Social Media

MikeMurphyMike Murphy isn’t a quiet kinda guy. He will let you know how he feels right off the bat, just like he did on a Boise Police Facebook page a couple of years ago when he was critical of a copper.

The issue — which dealt with Murphy’s treatment as a taxi driver — is mostly forgotten, but his unfriendly comments got him blocked by BPD. He was also blocked from the Mayor’s site when he was critical of Hizzoner. None of the comments were profane, libelous, or slander…just critical. Murphy is now a BSU student.

Murphy recently shared an account of a series of events in HONOLULU where the argument was made that in these days of social media and digital communication, a PUBLIC page like Facebook or Twitter is common communication and subject to the First Amendment protection of free speech. In short, Facebook is little different than standing on the corner or attending a council meeting and voicing one’s opinion. Note: this discussion regards government operated sites, not private sites like the GUARDIAN or personal pages.

The GUARDIAN talked with Chief Bill Bones who talked with Murphy and City legal staff regarding free speech. Bones subsequently has instructed that EVERYONE who was ever blocked from commenting be reinstated on the PD Facebook pages. Legal tells us they have, “ensured all departments (including the mayor’s office) are up to speed on the issue.”

Both Murphy and Bones offered essentially the same quote about each other: “He seems like a very decent person and it’s good to have a public forum conducted in a civil manner.”

The GUARDIAN checked with other agencies and found a surprisingly tolerant attitude regarding website comments. Idaho State Police tell us only a couple of people have been banned for “inappropriate” postings (such as a photo of a child in a lewd conduct case). Meridian coppers have encouraged a “lively discourse” as long as there are no threats or other illegal conduct such as slander and libel. Ada County follows the same guidelines.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Speculating that Facebook and Google will eventually be exposed by a German newspaper to be branches of the NSA.

    Facebook is an interesting place where people are embarrassed to be on your friends list if you post anything at all which is even mildly critical of anything at all. Employers, professors, the police, the politicos all watch for any hint of reality or threat in the fantastical and rosy posts. A rather bizarre concept really… kinda like the overly polite first few minutes of a neighborhood Tupperware party before they sip their way through several bottles of wine and start to have straight talk about the jerk who parks on the lawn or the barking dogs.

    I believe FB is a very intentional and well planned social engineering project designed to make public what used to be private with the explicit intent of using peer pressure to silence criticism of government and corporations. In the case the Editor brings us today, the system failed to quiet Mr. Murphy, so they blocked him instead. COWARDS!! Glad they are turning over a new leaf… lets hope it is genuine.

  2. Sounds like another strike against former Chief Masterson’s tenure.

    In the big picture, a police department is responsible for protecting the citizens’ First Amendment and yet in Honolulu and apparently here in Boise too, and likely many cities across the country police departments have been (are) the offenders… go figure.

    Good job for Chief Bones to reverse the policy.

  3. The Last House On The Block
    Apr 8, 2015, 6:31 pm

    Oddly, the text of the First Amendment says this:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.[1]

    It is simply directed towards Congress making a law abridging free speech. It does not extend anywhere else- which is an interesting distinction.

    Every person is entitled I suppose to create whatever rule they want particularly on their own websites- I am often in awe at how very little it takes some people to get the boot.

  4. Dear “First” house at the end of the block,
    And that is in part why the 14th Amendment came into being.
    Check it out:

    All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    And then there is the Idaho Constitution too:
    SECTION 9. FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Every person may freely speak, write and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.

    Take your pick. In any case, a government organization censoring speech simply because it is critical of the organization is exactly what should not be happening in America. Not so with “the old Boise Police”. In this Facebook case, and also in their history of people videoing their actions in public.
    Insert here- video of the police officer murdering an unarmed man in South Carolina, falsifying a police report, and planting evidence.

    From blocking social media posts to tampering with (deleting by BPD) evidence… it’s a slippery slope when police do whatever they want.

  5. Grumpy ole Guy
    Apr 8, 2015, 10:16 pm

    In this era when expressions such as WTF are both commonplace and readily accepted,it amazes me that anyone is surprised by speech as used in social media. Speech which just a few years ago was considered profane seems to be in general use, so, what’s the problem with the expression of honest opinion?

  6. Freedom of speech is not limited to the U.S. Constitution. It is considered an international basic human right, thought to have been first established in the 5th century BC in Athens. Try looking at the wiki page on the subject…

  7. The Last House On The Block
    Apr 9, 2015, 9:08 am

    Dear Easterner;

    I see nothing there which would not allow an owner/operator of a “blog” to boot whomever they wish off their comment board. That in fact happens right here.

    Largely I see the 14th just as irrelevant as the 1st here- both amendments are directed at large entities and certainly do not translate to counties, cities, or individual websites.

    Personally, I don’t like it either. But that’s the way it is- all over the world.

  8. Does this just cover comments the mayor’s post or also creating a post to that page? If so, somebody better inform the city council to open their page up.

    EDITOR NOTE–In the Honolulu argument it seemed to apply to a site that invited comments. The point was that if comments are accepted on the PUBLIC owned site, the agency couldn’t edit or ban people based on critical, but legal content.

  9. Rod in SE Boise
    Apr 9, 2015, 10:41 am

    In spite of everythng said above, the truth is that “freedom of speech” only means that the City of Boise (or any other branch of government) cannot prosecute or imprison anyone for what they say. The City of Boise’s website and Facebook page belong to the City of Boise and thay can block any commenters thay want. They probably shouldn”t, but they can.

  10. My conversation with Chief Billy Bones was cordial and candid, and while not endorsing my particular brand of activism [ & ], Chief Bones seems to genuinely appreciate that acceptance of dissent is critical to a healthy department and healthy republic.

    And whereas I have been a vocal critic of the Boise Police Department in the past (at one point calling for their disbanding, and replacement by the Ada County Sheriff’s Office), I truly believe Chief Bones represents a turning point in the department’s history.

    It should be noted that the Boise Guardian played a critical role in bringing myself and the Chief together to resolve this issue in a timely manner, and without the need for Federal involvement and / or attorneys.

    Unfortunately; but, not surprisingly, no such overture or magnanimity has been forthcoming from Mayor David Bieter or the politicos in the Mayor’s Office, and I ain’t holding my breath either.

    Vox Populi, Vox Dei!

  11. Great job Chief. What a magnanimous gesture on your part. One certainly wouldn’t want the truth to be suppressed in any fashion now would we.

  12. Aggrieved Party
    Apr 9, 2015, 4:33 pm

    “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.”
    Edward R. Murrow

    When loyal dissent is proffered with authenticity it cannot be discounted simply by ignoring it. Sadly, more often than not, an ignoring status quo refuses to bend to or embrace the idea that change is the only constant. Overcoming personal fear of becoming vulnerable is the hallmark of anyone willing to speak their version of truth to power. Remain true to authenticity and no apology is necessary for taking the time to try to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
    Silence from Hizzoner speaks volumes about what kind of a leader he sees himself to be. Have you asked him what he wants to be when he grows up?

  13. Here’s what will happen if all legitimate posters are allowed to use our public websites. Paid trolls will flood the websites with irrelevant, inflammatory, and misleading comments to drown out any legitimate comments. This is already happening on most every website that has a comment section. It is being done by government agencies and commercial entities all across America. There are now even automated web bots that are fighting it out on comment sections.

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