Since Donald Trump and his family/advisors have had a habit recently of blocking users on Twitter for being critical of their actions, the question “does the first amendment bar public officials from blocking social media users?” has come to the forefront of American politics. This is the strange state of American politics in 2017.
According to at least one federal judge, the answer to that question is “yes,” as he ruled that elected officials cannot block users for their critical opinions of the administration.
The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has sued the president on behalf of blocked users, spurring a lively academic debate on the topic. But Trump isn’t the only politician who has blocked people on social media. This week, a federal court weighed in on the question in a case with obvious parallels to Trump’s. It determined that the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause does indeed prohibit officeholders from blocking social media users on the basis of their views.
Davison v. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors involved the chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Phyllis J. Randall. In her capacity as a government official, Randall runs a Facebook page to keep in touch with her constituents. In one post to the page, Randall wrote, “I really want to hear from ANY Loudoun citizen on ANY issues, request, criticism, compliment, or just your thoughts.” She explicitly encouraged Loudoun residents to reach out to her through her “county Facebook page.”
“The Court cannot treat a First Amendment violation in this vital, developing forum differently than it would elsewhere,” Cacheris wrote, “simply because technology has made it easier to find alternative channels through which to disseminate one’s message.”
The Trump administration will just have to endure the daily barrage of negative tweets. We agree that it’s probably correct that the first amendment keep them from blocking users. Also, I’m a little disappointed, because it was a life goal for me to get Trump to block me on Twitter. I’m going to keep trying, even though he can’t now.