Mark Millennial was recently elected to the Nutmeg Board of Education. More than ten years younger than any of the other Board members, Mark brings a new approach to Board service. His presence on social media is far more extensive than any of the other Board members. Mark is constantly tweeting out about the doings of the Nutmeg Public Schools, and his Facebook page has become a virtual meeting place for debate about the challenges facing the Nutmeg Public Schools.
With the coming of the budget season, Mark went into high gear. His Facebook page reads: “Mark Millennial, Member of the Nutmeg Board of Education: I want to hear from YOU!!” and every three days Mark posts information about school spending, followed by a question about the related expenditure of Board funds.
For example, last week Mark posted a chart setting out school spending on high school athletics, broken down by sport, followed by the question, “Is Nutmeg meeting its obligations under Title IX?” Many residents posted comments in response to this question, some to the effect that girls sports are being neglected, while others claimed that boys’ sports have suffered with ill-advised reallocations to girls’ sports. Mark was delighted that his Facebook page was getting such traction, and he commented back on every single comment that his followers posted.
As can happen, a skunk then spoiled the garden party. Al Angry, a local gadfly, got into the discussion with rude and highly critical posts that took issue with every comment Mark made on his Facebook page. “What do you know, Mark Millennial,” Al posted rhetorically, “about spending hard-earned tax dollars after your parents paid for your education at a fancy college?” Mark tried to calm Al down with a patronizing post about appreciating his viewpoint, but things only got worse. Al’s next post started, “You’re wrong, and I will tell you how you are wrong,” and Al proceeded to provide a detailed, somewhat snarky rebuttal to each of Mark’s posts.
Mark was upset that Al’s negative posts were changing the tone of Mark’s Facebook page. So he did what any good millennial would do – he blocked Al’s access to his page. The tone of the comments on his Facebook page promptly improved.
Al was fit to be tied, and he did what any good gadfly would do – he sued Mark in federal court for violating his rights under the First, Fourth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. His ten-page complaint alleged that Mark’s actions in blocking him were improper viewpoint discrimination in violation of his free speech rights, and further that Mark’s actions in summarily blocking him from the Facebook page violated Al’s right to due process.
Mark was shocked and upset to be sued by Al. He didn’t see how Al had a right to insist on posting his negative comments on Mark’s personal Facebook page, but Mark certainly didn’t have the money to hire a lawyer to defend himself in litigation. He called Mr. Superintendent, who listened sympathetically to Mark’s story. Mr. Superintendent asked if Mark considered his Facebook page his own personal business, and Mark emphatically answered yes. If such is the case, Mr. Superintendent then told Mark regretfully, this is not Board business and that Mark is on his own.
What should Mark do?