Pittsburgh Councilmember Again Faces Allegations Of Social Media Censorship

Dec 12, 2017

UPDATED: 4:08 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017

The ACLU of Pennsylvania is again confronting Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Darlene Harris for allegedly censoring a constituent on her new official Facebook page.

In a letter to the city solicitor Tuesday, the civil liberties organization accused Harris of deleting a post on her official page that included a link to the Facebook group, “Citizens Against Darlene Harris for Pittsburgh City Council.”

A comment from constituent Jeff Heil was originally published at 11:48 p.m. Thursday, a few hours after Harris issued her first post. At some point, Heil said the comment disappeared from view and reappeared after the ACLU sent a letter Tuesday. Other Facebook users indicated they could still see the post, and posited it might be the result of hiding the comment rather than deleting it.

Calling the behavior “quite disturbing,” legal director Vic Walczak said the ACLU will take legal action if it happens again. He and his office confirmed Wednesday that the comment was gone at multiple times before the the letter was drafted.

“What part of ‘you can’t censor comments on this page’ Councilwoman Harris doesn’t understand is unclear to us,” Walczak said. “But we made it very clear that, if there’s another instance of this, that we’re just going to have to take it to a judge.”

 

Harris could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but issued a letter in response to the claims Wednesday afternoon:

"Please know that no one in my office, myself included, have deleted or hid comments or blocked individuals on my public Facebook page.  Those making these allegations and representations to you are either misinformed or disingenuous."

The ACLU wrote to Harris about similar behavior in November when four constituents claimed she blocked them from her personal Facebook page after they posted comments critical of her conduct.

In subsequent discussions with the ACLU, the councilwoman agreed to create separate personal and official Facebook pages. Harris wrote last week on her personal page that she respects the ACLU and created the second official site "to avoid any misunderstandings or further issues regarding this matter."

 

Walczak said her page this week continues to display censorship that violates the First Amendment.

“This is just not that difficult,” Walczak said. “She’s going to have to learn to tolerate things on that website that she may not want and which she has every right to take off of her personal site. But she can’t take it them off of the official site.”

The ACLU is confronting similar allegations that have resulted in lawsuits in Kentucky, Maryland and Maine, according to Walczak. No suits have been filed in Pennsylvania, but Walczak said the ACLU has raised similar concerns with another official in the Eastern part of the state.