Have you ever had an elected official block you on social media? If so, the Supreme Court will weigh in on whether they have a right to do so.
Not too long ago, while Jackie Lacey served as the District Attorney for Los Angeles County her office blocked the public’s right to comment on its Instagram page.
Lacey was broiled in a hotbed of scrutiny for her office not filing criminal charges against members of law enforcement. She was also on the receiving end of protests by members of the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles chapter who went so far as to bang drums in front of her home. The latter resulted in her now-deceased husband David Lacey going to the door with a gun drawn when members of BLM-LA rang their doorbell before dawn.
What followed was a lawsuit filed against Mr. Lacey for brandishing his weapon and the case is still being adjudicated through the court system despite his death.
Shortly thereafter, George Gascon was elected as the new District Attorney.
2UrbanGirls then inquired on whether he would “open the comment” section of the DA office’s Instagram page and it was restored.
In the neighboring Los Angeles County Public Health Department’s official page they refuse to turn the comments back on after residents took issue with top public health official Barbara Ferrer’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both offices are funded by taxpayers and the public has a right to speak on issues that directly impact them on any official account operated by taxpayer-funded staff.
Elected officials counter that their personal social media pages are private and thus they are allowed the ability to “block” residents whom they commonly identify as “trolls” and they don’t mean those cute characters from the movies.
Many elected officials use their personal pages to communicate actions they are undertaking in their official capacity.
Case in point, Asm. Isaac Bryan’s personal social media account far exceeds the engagement and follower count on his official account. He chooses to communicate primarily through his personal page to maximize exposure of issues he is working on in the state legislature but has had no complaints of anyone being “blocked” for criticizing his actions.
Asm. Tina McKinnor blocked the 2UrbanGirls Twitter account from viewing her personal social media account after we questioned her work on a ballot measure that reduced funding from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Her official account does follow us and we are allowed to follow her back but she does occasionally communicate some of her official actions and candidate endorsements on her personal account that we are not allowed to directly access and here is where the Supreme Court will weigh in.
The Supreme Court agreed today to hear an appeal from two San Diego-area school board members and decide whether public officials who take to social media are free to block their critics.
School board members — Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff and T.J. Zane — decided they had seen enough of what they described as “repetitious and non-responsive comments” from Christopher and Kimberly Garnier who grew up in San Diego, graduated from the public schools and had their three children in school.
When the two board members blocked the Garniers from their Facebook and Twitter accounts, the Garniers sued in federal court alleging a violation rights under the 1st Amendment.
They won before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which said the board members had turned their social media accounts into public forums.
The board members urged the Supreme Court to hear their case and overturn the 9th Circuit’s decision. They argued they were expressing their personal views on social media, and their Facebook or Twitter accounts did not speak for the school districts.
Their appeal also argued that a ruling in favor of the Garniers “will have the unintended consequence of creating less speech if the social-media pages of public officials are overrun with harassment, trolling, and hate speech, which officials will be powerless to filter.”
The court said it would hear the case of O’Connor-Ratcliff vs. Garnier in the fall.
Should elected officials be able to “block” the public from personal accounts that they use to convey official positions?