A civil liberties advocacy group is criticizing the Oyster Bay Town supervisor for deleting comments and blocking users on his Facebook page, calling the behavior “unlawful censorship” and a violation of the First Amendment.
The New York Civil Liberties Union sent a letter on Monday to Joseph Saladino after the organization received reports that comments were being removed from his page and users were being blocked for expressing “critical” views.
“This suppression of speech in a public forum like your Facebook page violates the Constitutional right to free speech under the First Amendment and is an attack on the core values of our democracy,” the letter reads. “We ask that you stop this unconstitutional behavior immediately and unblock those whose voices you have silenced.”
Brian Nevin, a spokesman for the town, said no comments are ever deleted from any social media account related to the town and said the NYCLU sent the letter “prior to learning any of the facts.”
“We are committed to having an open and healthy dialogue about our successes in Oyster Bay and no one is excluded from expressing their viewpoint,” Nevin wrote in a statement.
Susan Gottehrer, director of the NYCLU’s Nassau County chapter, said the organization has received screenshots from constituents who commented or complained of being blocked. She said she hopes the town will comply and that the organization will continue to monitor the situation.
The advocacy group threatened to bring a lawsuit against Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) in April for blocking constituents from his campaign page. In response, King launched a new Facebook page for updates on his government activity that doesn’t block anyone, Gottehrer said.
“It’s really important that people who are elected to office take this responsibility seriously and understand the importance of dissenting views,” Gottehrer said. “This is not a gray area.”
Gottehrer noted a federal lawsuit filed by seven Twitter users who were blocked from President Donald Trump’s Twitter account and said “there have been several cases that have established that blocking is a violation of First Amendment rights.”
Miriam Rosenthal, 46, of Plainview, said two of her comments were deleted from a Facebook post on Saladino’s page earlier this month. Saladino wrote about lowering flags to half-staff throughout the town to honor victims of the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in a post on Aug. 5.
Rosenthal said she posted a comment questioning Saladino’s stance on gun regulation legislation while he served as a state assemblyman.
“Within a minute my comment was gone, deleted,” Rosenthal said.
She said she then posted another comment — a screenshot of which she sent to Newsday — criticizing Saladino for removing comments. That post was also deleted, Rosenthal said.
Nevin said that Rosenthal “either deleted her own comment or is lying to sensationalize a story two months before Election Day.”
Susan Naftol, of Plainview, said several of her comments were also deleted from Saladino's page.
Naftol wrote "Time for a #NewDayNewWayInOysterBay" on an Aug. 13 post about the town's improved financial outlook and said her comment was quickly taken down.
After it was removed Naftol said she posted again: "I see that once again, my post has been deleted. Nice way to treat your constituents."
Naftol, who shared a screenshot of the comment with Newsday, said that was also deleted.