A lawsuit challenging health agencies’ practice of blocking social media comments containing keywords associated with viewpoints critical of animal testing
On September 9, 2021, the Knight Institute, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from automatically blocking comments containing keywords associated with viewpoints critical of animal testing from the agencies’ social media pages. The suit was filed on behalf of PETA as well as two animal rights advocates. All three have had their comments to the NIH’s Facebook or Instagram pages hidden because they were critical of, or contained keywords associated with criticism of, the government’s role in animal testing. PETA also discovered that the HHS blocks all comments containing the term “monkey” after its employees attempted to communicate on the HHS’s Facebook page.
The lawsuit alleges that the NIH and HHS Facebook and Instagram pages, which are open for comments from the general public, are public forums. It argues that by automatically hiding from public view comments containing keywords associated with animal rights advocacy, like “torture” or “PETA,” Director Tabak and Secretary Becerra have excluded speech from public forums based on viewpoint and unconstitutional content-based restrictions. It also argues that these activities deprive the plaintiffs of the opportunity to read other comments using the blocked keywords.
Status: Briefing on summary judgment completed; awaiting decision from district court.
Court Information: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. Tabak, No. 1:21-cv-02380 (D.D.C.).