Animal rescuers are suing New York City Animal Care and Control (ACC) for violating their First Amendment rights

This is an interesting story for animal rescuers and shelter reform advocates. They are suing New York City Animal Care and Control (ACC), which is a government run animal rescue organisation, because that organisation, on Facebook, filters out and deletes comments criticising them. They are, in effect, preventing the right of people to criticise and therefore their right to freedom of speech on social media, in this case Facebook.

Animal rescuers are suing New York City Animal Care and Control (ACC) for violating their First Amendment rights
Animal rescuers are suing New York City Animal Care and Control (ACC) for violating their First Amendment rights. Image: MikeB
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The rescuers and advocates are also suing on other grounds which I don’t have details of at the moment. It’s interesting because ACC naturally don’t want criticisms of their operation published on their Facebook page, which allegedly concerns the unnecessary killing of shelter animals because of poor management. There will probably be other criticisms.

Those suing ACC claim that American citizens have a First Amendment right to speak out against what is in effect a government policy with which they disagree. And they have a constitutionally protected right to demand that this government run organisation takes steps to correct things that are going wrong.

Nathan Winograd, who told me about this story, says that: “When animal lives are at stake – as they are when animals enter a shelter that is not fully embraced a culture of life-saving – removing comments critical of policies that favour killing by government shelters is even more egregious given the life-and-death consequences.”

ACC are allegedly filtering out comments on their Facebook page which contain the words “kill” and I am sure other words which indicate to them that the person making the comment is criticising them. The word “kill” would indicate to them that the comment needs to be filtered out because it would probably be about no-kill policies and a failure in the eyes of the commenter to properly execute the policy.

I presume that this is automatic filtering using Facebook’s technology.

For visitors who are unsure about America’s First Amendment rights; in essence, this aspect of their constitution prevents Congress from making laws that restrict freedom of speech. It is intended to protect the people of America against government which oversteps the mark and restricts a fundamental freedom namely freedom of speech and the freedom to have one’s own religion, for example.

The First Amendment works against the US government and protects the people but it does not provide a basis for one person to sue another privately or a person to sue a non-governmental legal entity. Companies and private employers are able to regulate speech on their platforms and within the workplace as the First Amendment only applies to the US government.

For example, Twitter banned president Donald Trump in 2021 as did Facebook and Instagram without being in breach of the First Amendment. This was legal.

It’ll be interesting to see how the ACC litigation pans out. It may set a precedent in which case the judges will be under pressure to get it right.

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