U.S court rules politician cannot block critic on social media
A federal appeals court Monday said that when a U.S. politician blocked one of her constituent’s on Facebook, she violated the First Amendment.
The court decided 3-0 that the chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Phyllis Randall, violated the rights of Brian Davison because she banned him from her “Chair Phyllis J. Randall” page for a period of 12 hours.
Such a case could set the bar for other similar cases in which politicians might want to restrict access of critics on their social media pages. Currently President Donald Trump has a case under appeal in which he asked to block his critics on Twitter.
In the case of Randall, she had blocked Davison after he had criticized a local school board. In 2016, Davidson had posted a comment after attending a town hall meeting in which school board members and their families were accused of having conflicts of interest and corruption.
Randall first deleted comments Davison had made on her page regarding this issue and subsequently blocked him for 12 hours. She later unblocked him but deleted her post along with all the messages. For doing that, the court ruled, “Randall unconstitutionally sought to ‘suppress’ Davison’s opinion that there was corruption on the school board.”
In 2017, U.S. District Court Judge James C. Cacheris in Alexandria ruled that Randall had violated Davison’s free speech rights with the temporary ban. At the time he said Randall had “committed a cardinal sin under the First Amendment.”
In the appeals court, Randall had argued that her page was personal and that she used it only to disseminate public information. She said Facebook was a “private website” and that it was within her rights to control what appeared on that page.
The court didn’t see it that way, saying her page stated that it existed to offer information and discuss country matters “from ANY Loudon citizen on ANY issues.” That meant it was a public forum protected by the First Amendment.
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