The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Lane Gwinn
The Times 

The Law on elected officials social media pages

 

September 8, 2022



DAYTON— According to the ACLU, the right for constituents to express themselves freely to their elected officials is protected under the First Amendment. Comments on an official’s page may be unpleasant to read, and they may feel it is personal; however, it is protected speech. Recently, a Dayton City Council member has engaged in blocking at least one community member because of the spirit of their behavior.

Social media, including Facebook and Twitter, have been recognized by the Supreme Court as “perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard.” (Packingham v. North Carolina.) The Court explained that these platforms allow individuals to “petition their elected representatives and otherwise engage with them in a direct manner.” Many elected officials have set up accounts for direct contact with constituents, including elected officials in Dayton and Columbia County.

Unlike private accounts, where the administrator can block anyone for any reason, elected officials using a public page for their office cannot block users. A public official may be able to regulate some speech on their social media pages to maintain the forum’s purpose, including limiting spam and commercial posts.

Elected officials can’t limit comments based on feelings that the posts are “disrespectful” or “inappropriate.” According to the ACLU and the courts, viewpoint discrimination where posts or commenters are blocked based on their points of view is never permissible. The First Amendment protects posts that may be unflattering, contrary opinions, and adverse reactions to actions or comments by the official.

 

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