Supreme Court: Public May Sue Officials Over Social Media

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Friday that constituents may in certain cases sue public officials who block or mute them on social media platforms. Now the issue returns to lower courts for further clarification.

The nine justices qualified their ruling on the identity of the official blocking a member of the public. It is also critical to determine whether the public figure used an official social media account where public business is featured.

NBC News reported Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote that these social media accounts may be considered official channels of communication.

This is the case, Barrett explained, when the person posting “possessed actual authority to speak on the state’s behalf” and “purported to exercise that authority.”

This is obvious when the account is deemed “official.” But Barrett included non-official accounts as well, though that designation greatly depended upon the user.

A pair of cases arose from California and Michigan. In the first, school board members blocked two concerned parents from posting comments on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Lower courts ruled in favor of the parents before the case made it to the Supreme Court.

However, lower courts previously sided with a Port Huron official in a dispute with a citizen. City Manager James Freed blocked a female resident who was critical of his reasoning for the city’s actions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now both cases return to the lower courts for them to apply the new Supreme Court guidelines.

Concerning the Freed case, Barrett wrote that the plaintiff must prove more than that the official was able to communicate on behalf of Port Huron. “The alleged censorship must be connected to speech on a matter within Freed’s bailiwick.”

Neither side received a clear victory in the cases as the lower courts must use the high court’s ruling to weigh the merits once again.

Many in government, including the Biden administration and the Republican Senatorial Committee, took the sides of the officials in both cases. The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil libertarians supported the constituents.