A lawsuit filed by The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) alleges Texas A&M University’s Facebook page censors comments including the words “PETA,” ″dog,” ″abuse” and “testing.”
PETA has led a campaign against medical research labs at Texas A&M which involves dogs with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare disease that causes muscle weakness since 2016. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, states the Texas A&M Facebook page is a forum controlled by the government which, under the First Amendment, cannot forbid speech based on its content. PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said the university is attempting to silence its critics by censoring its Facebook page.
“Texas A&M knows that it can’t possibly defend 37 years of cruel and fruitless experiments on dogs on the merits, so the school has resorted to silencing critics and shutting down debate,” Guillermo said. “PETA’s lawsuit aims to restore the First Amendment rights of everyone who wants to speak out against Texas A&M’s cruelty to animals.”
In a statement released by Texas A&M on Wednesday, the university said they respect PETA’s right to protest.
“We strongly support freedom of speech at Texas A&M,” the statement said. “Over the past two years, PETA and its supporters have protested against Texas A&M research activities on campus, at events, on campus buses and online. We respect their right to do so in spite of the continued misinformation they spread.”
According to the suit, PETA discovered the censorship through trial and error which began in December. The organization is claiming Texas A&M uses viewpoint-based discrimination and “it impedes PETA’s ability to petition the government for redress of grievances.”
The university confirmed they had monitored social media posts in response to disturbances by PETA.
“Texas A&M has taken reasonable steps to manage the University Facebook account in light of online attacks on our platform organized and encouraged by PETA,” the statement said. “We have taken these steps only after these attacks of PETA and its supporters became so extreme that they significantly interfered with University business, the ability of our communications employees to perform their duties and the ability of others members of the Texas A&M community to have meaningful access to our Facebook platform.”
The statement by Texas A&M said the university will “vigorously defend against this lawsuit.”