Supreme Court Unclear Whether Public Officials Can Block on Social Media

After three hours of oral arguments, all nine justices agreed on the value of clarifying boundaries for public officials posting on social media, but remained unclear on best strategy. 

According to a Reuters article, the U.S. Supreme Court justices seemed unsure about how to handle if elected officials are allowed to block people on their private social media accounts. As covered previously on Conduit Street, the current Supreme Court session will answer this question following the review of two conflicting lower court cases. During the hearing all the justices appreciated the importance of the question and value in clarity, but the avenue to reach such end was still unknown following three hours of oral arguments.

The main question arose around whether an individual’s First Amendment rights are violated when a public official blocks them on social media, but this hinges on the type of content being shared on that account. Distinguishing whether the content and the account are being used personally or professionally is rarely straightforward, according to the debate. Some justices questioned whether disclaimers on personal pages could help clarify that their social media activity is not governmental in order to delineate the capacity they are acting in. Other ideas focused on establishing a narrow category of postings such as announcing rules, directives, or notices to help differentiate between personal and public communications.

The two cases being considered on the matter are Lindke v Freed, originating in Michigan and O’Connor-Ratcliff v Garnier, a case from California. A decision is likely to come next summer and will have broad implications for public officials at every level or government.

Read the full Reuters article.