This week, EFF filed suit to stop Texas A&M University from censoring comments by PETA on the university’s Facebook and YouTube pages.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas A&M held its spring commencement ceremonies online, with broadcasts over Facebook and YouTube. Both the Facebook and YouTube pages had comment sections open to any member of the public—but administrators deleted comments that were associated with PETA’s high-profile campaign against the university’s muscular dystrophy experiments on golden retrievers and other dogs.
Where government entities such as Texas A&M open online forums to the public, the First Amendment prohibits them from censoring comments merely because they don’t like the content of the message or the viewpoint expressed. On top of that, censoring comments based on their message or viewpoint also violates the public’s First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances.
Texas A&M knows this well, because this is not the first time we’ve sued them for censoring comments online. Back in 2018, EFF brought another First Amendment lawsuit against Texas A&M for deleting comments by PETA and its supporters about the university’s dog labs from the Texas A&M Facebook page. This year, in a big win for free speech, the school settled with PETA and agreed to stop deleting comments from its social media pages based on the comments’ messages.
We are disappointed that Texas A&M has continued to censor comments by PETA’s employees and supporters without regard for the legally binding settlement agreement that it signed just six months ago, and hope that the federal court will make clear to the university once and for all that its censorship cannot stand.
EFF is joined by co-counsel PETA Foundation and Rothfelder Falick LLP of Houston.