The US Supreme Court will decide whether public officials can block critics on social media

WASHINGTON, April 24 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court, examining free speech rights in the age of social media, agreed on Monday to consider whether the First Amendment prohibits government officials from blocking their critics on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. .

Justices have accepted an appeal by two public school board members from the Southern California city of Poway over a lower court’s ruling in favor of school parents who sued after being blocked from Facebook pages and a Twitter account maintained by the employees.

The justices also heard an appeal by a Michigan man against a lower court’s ruling against him after he sued a Port Huron city official who blocked him on Facebook after critical posts the plaintiff made about the local government’s response to COVID-19.

At issue is whether a public official’s social media activity can amount to government action bound by the First Amendment’s limitations on state regulation of speech.

Justices faced a similar First Amendment issue in 2021 involving a legal dispute over former President Donald Trump’s efforts to block critics from his Twitter account. Judges ended that legal battle after Trump left office by ruling that the case was moot, overturning a lower court’s ruling that found the former president had violated constitutional free speech rights.

The California case involves Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliffe and TJ Zane, elected members of the Poway Unified School District. They blocked Christopher and Kimberly Garnier, the parents of three district school students, on Facebook and Twitter after the couple made hundreds of critical posts about issues such as race and the management of school finances.

The Garnier family sued O’Connor-Ratcliffe and Zane in federal court, alleging that their First Amendment rights to free speech were violated.

Zane and O’Connor-Ratcliffe had public Facebook pages identifying them as government officials, according to Garnier’s court filing. Zane’s page was titled “TJ Zane, Poway Unified School District Trustee” and included a photo of school district signs.

O’Connor-Ratcliffe also had a public Twitter account. On that account and her Facebook page, she identified herself as “president of the PUSD Board of Education” and linked to her official email address, court filings said.

A federal judge in California ruled in favor of the parents in 2021. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last July agreed, finding that school board members presented their social media accounts as ‚Äúchannels for public communication’ for the school board business.

The Michigan case involves Port Huron resident Kevin Lindke, who was blocked from City Manager James Freed’s public Facebook page after posting criticism related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lindke sued Freed in federal court, also claiming that his First Amendment rights were violated.

Freed’s account was a public Facebook page that identified him as a “public figure,” featured a photo of him wearing his city manager pin and often included information about city programs and policies, according to Lindke’s court filing.

A federal judge ruled in Freed’s favor in 2021. The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last July agreed, finding that Freed was not acting in his official capacity when he blocked Lindke from Facebook.

Petitioners in both cases told the Supreme Court that the different outcomes in their cases reflected a split among lower courts that the justices must resolve.

Reporting by John Kruzel; Editing by Will Dunham

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *