Public Officials Should Avoid Blocking Users on Official Accounts
An appeals court decided yesterday to leave in place the July 2019 ruling that US government officials can’t block other users on Twitter accounts used for official purposes. The Knight First Amendment Institute brought the original case against President Donald Trump after he blocked users on his @RealDonaldTrump Twitter account. The US Department of Justice can still appeal to the Supreme Court.
The original ruling only concerned Twitter accounts used for official purposes. But the consequences are likely to be far-reaching.
First, the principle will probably apply to all social media in the future. Another court case last year found that a Virginia resident was wrongly blocked from a local official’s Facebook page. We should expect that the courts will reach similar conclusions about other social media sites, such as YouTube and Instagram.
Second, it could be a signal that online communication is finally joining the real world. The days of writing or doing whatever you want online without consequence were already mostly behind us. But now that blocking someone on Twitter is an official act of government, in the legal sense, it’s looking like a paradigm shift.
This should also come as a warning to businesses. What you do online is about more than just branding, marketing, and sales. It’s a serious means of communication.
Read the press release from the Knight First Amendment Institute here.