A Virginia federal appeals court recently passed a rule that seemed quite unusual to the politicians and even some lower courts. It reportedly ruled that politicians cannot block critics on social media networks.
On Monday, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals said that a Virginian politician, Phyllis Randall violated the constitution by blocking an individual from viewing her Facebook page.
According to reports, chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Randall had banned Brian Davison from her “Chair Phyllis J. Randall” page for 12 hours.
Davison was barred following his accusations of corruption and conflicts of interest on school board members and their relatives in a Facebook post, under his profile “Virginia SGP”. The claims were made after he attended a town hall meeting in 2016.
In a 3-0 ruling, the federal appeals court said that Randall violated the First Amendment free speech rights of Davison.
Katie Fallow, the lawyer who represented Davison, said that public officials “have no greater license to suppress dissent online than they do offline.”
Randall argued that her Facebook page was a private website, which gives her the right to block users she considers offensive. However, the assertion was rejected by Circuit Judge James Wynn, who said the “interactive component” was a public forum.
Judge Wynn said that Randall’s move to block Davison represented illegal viewpoint discrimination. “[Davison’s speech] occupies the core of the protection afforded by the First Amendment,” he wrote.
The lower courts have differed over whether the social media pages of government officials are public forums.
The rule passed by the federal appeals court has been viewed as unjust by many people, and it may be because the case was the first heard at the federal appellate level on the subject. However, the judgment cannot be called foul.
President Donald Trump is involved in a similar case, where he had asked the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan to overturn a ruling from May 2018, where District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said that the President cannot block critics from his Twitter account @RealDonaldTrump.
The ruling was called “fundamentally misconceived” by the Department of Justice. However, the fact that Trump uses that account to make all his official announcements doesn’t make it a personal profile. Similarly, Randall’s Facebook page is also being used under her designation for official announcements.
Being the leaders of a democracy, politicians have to bear a responsibility of protecting the rights of the people. However, the approach of these leaders towards the critics has tainted their positions to a certain level.
While the ruling of federal appeals court on barring critics is being viewed as unfair, they actually have protected the freedom of speech of the people. In a democratic society every person has the right to express their views on the leaders they elect.