Diritto di parola nei confronti della comunità locale che vuole far togliere dei post da Instagram

Interessante, atipico ed inquietante caso deciso nel Wisconsin il 24.09.2021, ase No. 20-cv-0620-bhl, Cohoon v. Konrath-Klump.

Un ragazza (Amyiah cohon) si ammala di Covid19: nonostante un test negativo, i medici glielo indicano come probabile, essendo agli inizi della pandemia ed essendo probabilmente ancor poco preciso). Posta su instagram in due occasioni successive delle foto, che la rappresentano malata ed anzi con ossigenatori.

La comunità locale si spaventa, non avendo ancora avuto all’epoca alcun  caso, e tramite lo sceriffo chiede che vengano rimosse . Lo sceriffo avanza la richeista in modo deciso, addirittura ventilando la possibilità che operi una sanzione penale detentiva in caso di rifiuto.

La ragazza però agisce in giudizio chiedendo: (1) a declaratory judgment establishing that Defendants violated her First Amendment rights, and (2) an injunction enjoining Defendants from citing her or her parents for disorderly conduct, arresting them, jailing them, or threatening any of the above, for future posts on social media about her scare with COVID-19. (ECF No. 3 at 1.).

La corte accoglie la prima domanda ma rigetta la seconda.

Il punto qui interssante è l’allegata violazione del primo emendamento (liberà di parola) data dalla condotta dello sceriffo, quando tentò (troppo) energicamente di persuadere la ragazza e i suoi genitori a  rimuovere i posts, per il panico creato nella comunicà locale

Ecco il passsaggio rilevante: <<Even if short and often grammatically scurrilous, social media posts do not fall outside the ambit of the First Amendment.  To the contrary, they are exactly what the First Amendment seeks to protect.  See Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S. Ct. 1730, 1732 (2017) (explaining that social media is often the “principal source[] for . . . speaking and listening in the modern public square”).  In the eyes of the law, when Amyiah Cohoon took to Instagram, she was no different than John F. Tinker wearing his black armband in the halls of the Des Moines public schools, or Paul Robert Cohen donning his “Fuck the Draft” jacket in the corridors of the Los Angeles County Courthouse, and her speech deserved the same degree of protection.  See Tinker v.  Des Moines Independent Cmty.  Sch.  Dist.,  393  U.S.  503,  511  (1969);  Cohen  v.  California,  403  U.S.  15  (1971);  see  also  Mahanoy Area Sch. Dist. v. B. L. by & through Levy, 141 S. Ct. 2038, 2042 (2021) (holding that a student’s social media posts containing derogatory remarks about her school’s cheerleading team were protected by the First Amendment).  

But  Defendants  disagree.    In  their  view,  Amyiah  forfeited  her  constitutional  protection  when she published a post that caused concern in the community and led  to an influx of phone calls to the Westfield School District and Marquette County Health Department.  (ECF No. 17 at 13.)  According to Sheriff Konrath, this was akin to “screaming fire in a crowded movie theater.”  (ECF No. 1-9 at 1.)  Even setting aside that the popular movie theater analogy actually referred to “falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic,” Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 52 (1919) (emphasis added), Defendants’ argument still fails.  While content-based speech restrictions are permissible in limited circumstances (incitement, obscenity, defamation, fighting words, child pornography, etc.), the Supreme Court “has rejected as ‘startling and dangerous’ a ‘free-floating  test  for  First  Amendment  coverage  .  .  .  based  on  an  ad  hoc  balancing  of  relative  social costs and benefits.’”  U.S. v. Alvarez, 567 U.S. 709, 717 (2012) (quoting United States v. Stevens, 559 U.S. 460, 470 (2010)).   Labeling  censorship  societally  beneficial  does  not  render  it  lawful.    If  it  did,  nearly  all  censorship  would  evade  First  Amendment  scrutiny.    Defendants  may  have  preferred  to  keep Marquette  County  residents  ignorant  to  the  possibility  of  COVID-19  in  their  community  for  a  while longer, so they could avoid having to field calls from concerned citizens, but that preference did  not  give  them  authority  to  hunt  down  and  eradicate  inconvenient  Instagram  posts.    See Terminiello  v.  City  of  Chicago,  337  U.S.  1,  4  (1949)  (holding  that  speech  is  protected  against  censorship  or  punishment  unless  likely  to  produce  “a  clear  and  present  danger  of  a  serious  substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest”).  Amyiah’s post is not captured by any of the categorical exceptions to the First Amendment, so this Court will not balance the social utility of curtailing it against its government-assigned value.   But  Defendants  persist.    They  cast  Amyiah’s  characterization  of  her  illness  as  a  lie, insisting that because she ultimately tested negative, she was prohibited from publicly proclaiming that she had beaten COVID-19.   But the very doctors who tested her also informed her that she may  have  had  COVID-19  in  spite  of  the  negative  test.    Her  Instagram  posts  were,  therefore,  at worst, incomplete.  The notion that the long arm of the government—redaction pen in hand—can extend to this sort of incomplete speech is plainly wrong.  The Marquette County Sheriff had no more ability to silence Amyiah’s posts than it would to silence the many talking heads on cable news, who routinely pronounce one-sided hot takes on the issues of the day, purposefully ignoring any inconvenient facts that might disrupt their preferred narratives.  Indeed, even if Amyiah’s posts had been untruthful, no court has ever suggested that noncommercial false speech is exempt from First Amendment scrutiny.  See Alvarez, 567 U.S. at 720.  The Supreme Court has emphasized: “[t]he remedy for speech that is false is speech that is true.  This is the ordinary course in a free society.”  Id. at 727.  The government here had every opportunity to counter Amyiah’s speech, but it opted instead to engage in the objectionable practice of censorship.  Because her Instagram post was undoubtedly protected by the First Amendment, the Court finds that Amyiah has satisfied the first element of her retaliation claim. >>+

Il punto centrale difensivo è dunque:   In  their  view,  Amyiah  forfeited  her  constitutional  protection  when she published a post that caused concern in the community and led  to an influx of phone calls to the Westfield School District and Marquette County Health Department.  (ECF No. 17 at 13.)  According to Sheriff Konrath, this was akin to “screaming fire in a crowded movie theater.” .

Implausibile e irricevibile difesa da parte dei due sceriffi/sergenti. Il conflitto tra il diritto di informare della gravità del morbo in arrivo, parlando di se, e l’esigenza di tranquillità della comunità locale che verrebbe incrinata dalla circolazione delle foto , come se non parlarne potesse fermarlo. Da qui l’aggettivo inquietante all’inizio del post: sarebbe grave un esito opposto.

Il giudice accoglie la domanda di Amyiah (sul punto 1).

Interessante è poi il ragionamento sulla adverse action (cioè l’inibizione del diritti di parola9 a p. 7 ss., consistita nella eccessiva pressione da parte dello sceriffo (da noi non sarebbe reato? Abuso di ufficio? Violenza privata? Minaccia?)