Air Force changes social media speech policy to resolve lawsuit with veteran
First posted October 12, 2022 4:49pm EDT
Last updated October 12, 2022 4:50pm EDT
All Associated Themes:
- Legal Action
- Professional Consequences
- Social Media
An Air Force veteran sued the service after it blocked him on Facebook for a critical comment, leading to a settlement, as well as a servicewide update to Air Force social media policy.
Rick Rynearson is a retired Air Force major. According to his lawyers, he “follows, documents, and at times, criticizes Air Force policy.”
Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne Bass, the Air Force’s senior enlisted leader, uses her official Facebook page to post updates and information about the Air Force.
On Nov. 22, 2020, Bass said in a Thanksgiving-themed Facebook post that she was thankful for the people who serve in the Air Force.
Per Stars and Stripes, Rynearson replied to the post, writing “he was thankful that other branches of the military were concentrating on warfare so that the Air Force could concentrate on making sure ‘we all feel good about ourselves.’”
“I am thankful the phrase ‘air power’ has now been replaced with #CarePower,” he wrote, including a photo of a “Care Bears” cartoon.
A few hours later, Rynearson was blocked. He reached out to Bass to get unblocked, but said he never heard back. Stars and Stripes wrote that he even attempted to contact the Pentagon to advise that “blocking him from an official government Facebook page violated the First Amendment,” but received no response.
Rynearson then contacted the Center for Individual Rights, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm. An August 2021 statement from the firm alleges that government social media pages counted as public forums, and claimed that blocking Rynearson violated his constitutional right to Free Speech.
On Aug. 27, 2021, Rynearson filed a lawsuit against Bass, asserting his ban was an unlawful restriction of his right to Free Speech under the First Amendment.
Rynearson settles with the Air Force
On Aug. 3, 2022, Rynearson reached a settlement with the Air Force, requiring Bass to unblock and agree not to block him again “on the basis of the viewpoint expressed in any comment.” There was no financial reward. Both sides agreed to pay their own legal fees.
Air Force implements servicewide update to its social media policy
Shortly after, the Air Force changed its social media policies. Official Air Force social media accounts now include this disclaimer: “Posts will not be removed, and users will not be banned, based on the viewpoint expressed in any comments,” Military.com reported.