Cleveland is trying again to stop use of social media to convene unruly “flash mobs,” hoping this time to avoid charges that the city is violating constitutional rights, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The City Council voted yesterday to ban inciting to riot — the law had prohibited only rioting — and added computers and cellphones to a list of items that can be considered criminal tools when used illegally.
A previous attempt directly outlawed use of Internet sites like Facebook and Twitter to rally mobs and create disturbances, but critics said it was unconstitutional, unnecessary and difficult to enforce. Mayor Frank Jackson vetoed that legislation in August. James Hardiman of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said the new ordinances are also flawed and predicts they will be challenged by groups like the ACLU or criminal defense lawyers. He said the laws could end up punishing people who innocently arrange get-togethers that unexpectedly turn rowdy. He said the laws also open the door for illegal search and seizure of cellphones and computers, and, given the city’s demographics, could disproportionately penalize minorities.