MTSU professor sues State Rep. for blocking him on Facebook, claims First Amendment violation

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Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 5:00 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - A Middle Tennessee State University Professor is suing a Tennessee State Representative after claiming that the Representative violated his First Amendment rights after blocking him on Facebook.

Court documents obtained by WSMV4 showed in September 2021, Dean Fox, a Mass Communications professor at MTSU, was blocked from State Rep. Jeremy Faison’s (R-Cosby) official Facebook page after commenting on one of Rep. Faison’s posts.

The lawsuit showed that Rep. Faison had posted a message saying, “Happy Labor Day - the people of Tennessee Deserve a holiday for always getting the job done!”

After the message was shared, a user by the name of Ray Barnes commented, “It’s great to be about a raise...?” Rep. Faison then responded to that comment by saying, “I guess the idea of bettering yourself with education or getting a better job is just out of the question for you?”

Facebook comments from Rep.
Facebook comments from Rep.(TN Federal Court)

After several more comments by both parties, Barnes finally replied, “You seem confused. You work for us. The Government ‘Gives’ us nothing...we already own it. When you allow internet companies to only serves the fattest urban areas and allow the rural region to wither economically as a result, you are failing your responsibility to US.” Court documents said Fox liked Barnes’ comment.

Rather than using his official State Representative page, Rep. Faison commented with his personal account, saying, Ray Barnes because success is giving, not earned. Yeah, that’s real 1900s.”

Facebook comments from Rep.
Facebook comments from Rep.(TN Federal Court)

The lawsuit said Fox chimed into the discussion and said he argued that the Rep.’s criticisms of Barnes’ work ethic were hypocritical because he had received $25,000 in Paycheck Protection Program loans that the federal government forgave. Shortly after this comment was made, it was deleted from the Facebook page.

Fox commented on the post again, asking why his previous post regarding Rep. Faison’s loans was deleted. The lawsuit said that comment was deleted as well. Fox was then blocked from viewing or engaging with the official Facebook page from his account.

After being blocked, on October 15, 2021, Fox had the Vanderbilt Law School First Amendment Clinic send a letter to Rep. Faison, informing him that banning Fox from commenting on his page constituted a violation of the First Amendment. Rep. Faison did not respond.

Attorneys have made several attempts on behalf of the MTSU professor to contact Rep. Faison, requesting that he unblock the user from viewing or engaging with his official Facebook page.

Rep. Faison offered us the following comment regarding the lawsuit: