Official accounts of institutions and officials must be a space for expressing attitudes

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) points to the negative practices of certain institutions and public officials, which in the online space, and to stop negative comments, restrict the freedom of expression of citizens. Increasing practice of removing comments by institutions and officials, but also blocking users on social media who present arguments rather than insults, slander or other inappropriate comments, does not contribute to the development of grounded criticism and dialogue as a need of modern democratic society.

The fact that certain comments or statements of users on social media are not liked by the institution or individual in it, should not be a basis for such restriction according to their authors, if it does not contain hate speech, insults, threats or violates other regulations in Montenegro.

The political and programme goals of a democratically elected government should be pursued with consistent respect for democratic principles, but also the voice of the public as a source of its legitimacy. By creating conditions for the exchange of different opinions in the digital space, citizens are allowed to actively contribute to public policymaking, using the advantages of technology we have.

The Constitution of Montenegro guarantees freedom of expression expressed in speech, written word, image or otherwise. The same article of the Constitution states that freedom of expression can be limited only by the right of others to dignity, reputation and honor, i.e. if public morality or security of Montenegro is endangered. This comes from Montenegro’s international commitments, such as those of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Criminal Code prescribes fines or imprisonment of up to one year for a person who unlawfully denies or restricts another person’s freedom of speech or public appearance, while the qualified form of that crime is envisaged for officials in the performance of their duties.

Possession of accounts on social media is not an obligation of state bodies and public officials. However, by creating these accounts, the responsibility is taken for their editing. As these accounts are by their nature platforms on which opinions can be exchanged, the moderation of these accounts must not be based on censorship, contrary to their purpose, but must open up space for healthy discussion. It also means the possibility of stakeholders to participate in the discussion and defend their views with arguments.

In this regard, CCE also recalls the invalid decisions of the American judicial authorities, which have twice pointed out that the blocking of dissidents on social media Twitter by former US President Donald Trump is a restriction of freedom of speech guaranteed by the US Constitution.

Given the possibility of deleting offensive and other problematic comments, blocking users from official accounts, as the most repressive measure, should be exceptionally applied in cases of pronounced irresponsible behavior of a user. On the other hand, such a measure, in case this behavior is contrary to positive regulations, should be accompanied by a report to the authorities by a body or public official, which would explain such a rigid sanction.

Damir Suljević, Programme associate