Federal appeals court holds blocking access to politician’s social media violates First Amendment
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Federal appeals court holds blocking access to politician’s social media violates First Amendment

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled Monday that blocking a critic on a politician’s public Facebook page is a violation of the First Amendment.

Brian Davison brought suit against Phyllis Randall, the Chair of the Loudoun County, Virginia, Board of Supervisors, for removing his comment on the politician’s official Facebook page. After Davison attended a town hall and openly criticized Randall through comments, the Chair deleted the post along with all the comments and replies, blocked Davison for a few hours and unblocked him later. Davison brought suit alleging that limiting his access to the public forum was a violation of his First Amendment rights.

The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s reasoning that Randall’s official Facebook page is a public forum because Randall characterized the page as a government official website, asked for open dialogue and comment from citizens, and used the page to administer updates to constituents.

Randall argued that “public forum” is not clearly defined and that her Facebook page should not be characterized in that manner especially because Facebook is “a private website and therefore does not constitute ‘public property’ susceptible to forum analysis.”

The appellate judges ultimately rejected this argument and held for Davison based on prior case law and Randall’s illogical line drawing for when the First Amendment can be applied.