Elected officials can not silence critics on social media, rules of the court of appeal

Elected officials can not silence critics on social media, rules of the court of appeal

Loudon County Board of Supervisors Chairman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) violated the first amendment by temporarily blocking a voter on Facebook, according to the US Court of Appeal for the 4th Circuit. (Ricky Carioti / The Washington Post) An elected official in Virginia violated the First Amendment when she temporarily blocked a voter on Facebook, a federal appeals court that ruled Monday, in a new case with implications for how government officials nationally interacted with voters on social media . The unanimous decision of the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit is the first of a court of appeal to answer the question whether freedom of expression prevents public officials from blocking critics from their social media feeds. The 42-page opinion goes into the Facebook page of Phyllis J. Randall, chairman of the Board of Regulators of Loudoun County, but President Trump is facing a similar lawsuit to silence critics on his active @realDonaldTrump Twitter account, which has millions of followers. [What does an elected official in Virginia have to do with whether President Trump can block people on Twitter? A lot.] Both officials, in separate lawsuits, claim that their accounts on private digital platforms are personal and that they can limit who gets the chance to speak there without crossing the constitutional lines. The court of appeal in Richmond did not agree with that. Government officials can not block critical comments about digital platforms used to conduct official government activities and to interact with voters, concluded the court. Randall's case arose after she briefly blocked community activist Brian Davison in the beginning of 2016 for accusations that she was blasphemous & # 39; found. [Read the full 4th Circuit Court opinion] Randall dressed the Facebook page of the chair in the power and prestige of h[er] state office & # 39; and created and managed the page to & # 39; perform actual or clear tasks of her office & # 39 ;, "according to the opinion written by Judge James A. Wynn Jr. and along with Judge Pamela Harris." That Randall's ban from Davison was an attempt to to suppress critical language of the press [such members’] behavior of [their] official duties or suitability for public office "further confirms that the prohibition was taken under the color of the state law." The third judge in the panel, Judge Barbara Milano Keenan, wrote a separate opinion in which she agreed with the verdict, but she urged the court to "exercise great caution" in such new jurisdictions and "wait for further guidance from the Supreme Court." on the scope of the first amendment on social media. " Randall said on Monday that she would not seek further judicial review. [D.C. police chief blocked some Twitter followers, calling posts “cruel and nasty”] The individual case against Trump is at an early stage at the Federal Court of Appeal in New York, where he is represented by the Ministry of Justice. That court is not bound by the decision of the 4th Circuit, but will certainly notice. Joshua A. Geltzer, executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Representation and Protection of Georgetown, said the 4th Circuit ruling is important because the space on digital social media is now the equivalent of a physical public meeting, where most political dialogue. "In the case of the Loudoun official and the president, both have done their best to use their presence on social media in an official capacity and to encourage public participation," Geltzer said. "A platform has been created in which the government can not allow the voices they like and the voices they do not like can not be silent," he said.