UW Madison sued over alleged social media censorship

A former student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is suing after the university allegedly barred her from commenting on posts from certain university-sponsored social media accounts.

The student told Campus Reform that the incident shows UW-Madison doesn't care about free speech.

A former student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging it intentionally deleted comments she made on university social media posts. 

Madeline Krasno, a former student at the university, is suing the 

university for allegedly deleting her social media comments posted on UW-Madison’s Instagram and Facebook pages. The comments drew attention to mistreatment of laboratory monkeys at the school according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which is representing her.

According to the lawsuit, Krasno was “banned” from ”participation on the @uwmadison Instagram account and the University’s UWMadison Facebook Page.”

The Animal Defense Fund argues that the deletion of her comments is a violation of Krasno’s right to free speech and an attempt of censorship. UW-Madison’s social media pages act as a public forum for discussion, and exclusion from this is barred by the constitution the organization argues. The lawsuit demands that bans placed on Krasno’s social media accounts be lifted and that all legal fees be repaid should the suit prevail.

“It is unconscionable that the university responded to criticism about its research on nonhuman primates by devoting resources to silence the criticism rather than stop the inhumane experiments,” Christopher Barry, managing attorney for the WIldlife Animal Defense Fund told Campus Reform.

“Within the public fora created by the University’s Instagram and Facebook accounts, the University effectively discriminates based on viewpoint by excluding discussion and criticism of its invasive research on primates,” states the lawsuit against UW.

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The school’s social media guidelines state that the school may remove any content for any reason at their discretion, regardless of right to speech.

While UW-Madison does not regularly review content posted to social media sites, it shall have the right to remove any content for any reason, including but not limited to, content that it deems threatening, profane, obscene, a violation of intellectual property rights or privacy laws, off-topic, commercial or promotion of organizations or programs not related to or affiliated with the university, or otherwise injurious or illegal. Users are fully responsible for the content they load on any of UW-Madison’s social media sites,” the policy states.

Krasno, now an animal rights activist, worked as a primate research lab assistant during her time at UW and witnessed several instances of animal abuse in studies conducted on monkeys. The studies, which remove newborn monkeys from their mothers, according to the lawsuit, have long been considered controversial due to their inhumane treatment of the monkeys being studied.

She told Campus Reform that the experience with the lawsuit has taught her a lot about the school’s commitment to diversity.

“As far as I can tell, UW-Madison does not have a commitment to free speech - how can they when they have made it so words such as ‘primate,’ ‘WNPRC,’ ‘animal testing,’ ‘experimenting,’ ‘macaques,’ and ‘monkeys’ are automatically blocked on Facebook,” Krasno said.

“If you write a comment using one of these words on one of UW’s Facebook posts, the comment will be hidden from the public automatically. Wisconsin is so afraid to have an honest conversation about what they are doing to these living, feeling beings that they simply won’t let the discussion take place. I worked in one of their labs and experienced this environment first hand, and UW’s response to me speaking out is censorship; this should be a clear indication that UW can’t be trusted to take care of their primates and it’s time for them to shut down the primate labs,” Krasno continued.

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Krasno also opened up about her mental health, which has suffered as a result of the lawsuit.

“I walked away from the laboratory with extreme anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder - both of which I’m heavily struggling with right now in the midst of the lawsuit and an increasing amount of speaking events,” Krasno said.

“It’s important to me that the public is aware of the realities of animal testing and also that young, impressionable people, like myself, are aware of what they might be signing up for if they choose to involve themselves in animal testing. Had I known what this experience would do to me or what I was going to see, I never would have set foot in the building.”

The lawsuit aims to force UW-Madison to allow Krasno to participate on discussions on university social media posts again, as well as covering all legal fees.

The mistreatment of animals at the University of Wisconsin has been an issue of late as the school was recently forced to pay $74,000 in fines by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 28 violations of federal animal research treatment standards. Prior to that, in 2015, the school was fined $35,000 for similar violations, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

UW-Madison News and Media Relations Director Meredith McGlone acknowledged the lawsuit over content “moderation” but Campus Reform that the university could not comment on the pending litigation.

“The Animal Legal Defense Fund has joined with a University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate who once was a student employee of a nonhuman primate lab to sue the university over the moderation of comments on social media posts. UW–Madison cannot comment on pending legal matters.”

However, McGlone defended the treatment of the laboratory monkeys as completely ethical.

“However, while the lawsuit does not address animal care in campus facilities, the other parties to the suit have made many claims in news coverage on that subject. Monkeys in the university’s facilities are not abused or neglected. They are cared for by veterinarians and dedicated staff, and the presence of all these valuable animals and people on campus is vital to research that can help improve the lives of so many.”

McGlone also stated that the university “remains committed to animal welfare.”

“The university remains committed to animal welfare and transparent public dialogue about animals in research, because it would be unethical to ignore the many ways animal research can help people and animals. Animal studies have been critical to the development of vaccines and treatments for HIV and hepatitis, to our understanding of cancer, Alzheimer’s and other conditions, and have played a pivotal role in the advancement of vaccines for COVID-19.”