Supreme Court Establishes Guidelines for Prohibiting Citizens’ Access to Officials’ Social Media Accounts

The Supreme Court, in a pair of unanimous decisions on Friday, added clarity to a constitutional puzzle: determining when elected officials violate the First Amendment by blocking people from their social media accounts.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, writing for the court in the lead case, outlined the requirements to sue officials for blocking individuals. The officials must have government authority on the issues they address and must use that authority in their posts.

The court did not apply the new standard to the cases before them and sent them back to lower courts for further review.

These cases are part of the Supreme Court’s consideration of how the First Amendment applies to social media, with upcoming cases addressing issues like state restrictions on technology platforms and government efforts to combat misinformation.

The cases on Friday highlighted the challenge of applying old legal doctrines to new technology.

In both cases, the central question was whether the officials’ social media use constituted state action subject to the First Amendment.

One case involved the Facebook page of a city manager, James R. Freed, which contained a mix of personal and official content.

Mr. Freed shared information about the city’s activities and engaged with the public on various topics, including the pandemic response, prompting critical comments that led to his blocking of a resident.

The court analyzed whether Mr. Freed’s actions amounted to state action or personal conduct.

Justice Barrett discussed the need to distinguish between private conduct and state action, emphasizing that categorizing behavior requires close examination.

The second case involved school board members in California who used social media to communicate with constituents and discuss board activities. They blocked parents who posted critical comments, leading to a legal challenge.

Lower courts ruled in favor of the parents, recognizing the significance of social media in hosting public debate and upholding free expression protected by the First Amendment.


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