Animal News

Texas A&M agrees to stop censoring Facebook comments after PETA lawsuit

Texas A&M agrees to stop censoring Facebook comments post-PETA lawsuit

Golden retriever
They've been experimenting on golden retrievers for nearly 40 years and have nothing to show for it. Photo courtesy of PDSA

The country's most famous animal organization scored a win for free speech in a lawsuit against Texas A&M University, in which the university will no longer block or filter comments from its Facebook page.

PETA has been conducting a high-profile campaign against the school's experiments on golden retrievers at its muscular dystrophy (MD) laboratory.

That campaign resulted in comments being posted on the university's Facebook page, which Texas A&M tried to silence by using a filter that automatically deleted visitor posts and comments if they contained words such as "PETA," "cruelty," or "lab."

PETA filed a federal lawsuit in May 2018, challenging Texas A&M's use of a filter.

As part of their settlement of the First Amendment lawsuit, Texas A&M agreed to remove all settings blocking or filtering comments on its Facebook page and to pay PETA $75,000 in legal fees.

PETA began its campaign against Texas A&M in 2016. Video footage captured from inside the laboratory showed dogs bred to develop a crippling, painful form of muscular dystrophy, left struggling to walk, swallow, or breathe.

These experiments have been going on for 37 years and haven't resulted in a cure, much less a treatment to reverse disease symptoms in humans. PETA is urging A&M to shut the dog laboratory down and pursue humane and effective research methods.

The university initially denied that it was deliberately breeding diseased dogs, claiming that the dogs on which they were experimenting already had canine MD.

PETA found documents that the university was lying, and in September 2019, the university agreed to shut down its breeding program.

PETA's lawsuit accused Texas A&M of Facebook "censorship."

It argued that the university's Facebook page constitutes a public forum and that the school's censorship was a violation of PETA's constitutional right to free speech.

PETA was represented by attorneys with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the privacy and free-speech rights of all people in the digital era; and by Rothfelder & Falick, LLP.

Texas A&M is not the only public entity that blocks comments from its Facebook page: The Dallas Zoo has been deleting comments that question its policies and procedures for at least five years, pre-dating its controversial, cruel importation of wild elephants from Swaziland in 2016 — despite the fact that the zoo is owned by the city of Dallas. No other city agency has that luxury.

"Government censorship of negative comments on its social media sites is rampant at all levels of government," says David Greene, EFF civil liberties director. "Fortunately, because of this lawsuit, Texas A&M has pledged to stop its unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination on its Facebook page. Hopefully, other agencies and officials will not wait to be sued before ending similar practices."