While there is no set precedent for the issue, more and more courts are encountering a new type of lawsuit related to social-media blocking. The Knight Foundation, for instance, is suing the U.S. government on behalf of Twitter users blocked by President Donald Trump, whose Twitter account has become alarmingly vital when it comes to understanding his presidency.
This week, a federal court in Virginia tackled the issue when it ruled on behalf of a plaintiff blocked by a local county politician. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Brian Davison sued the chairwoman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, who temporarily banned him from her Facebook page after he posted criticism of local officials last year.” Judge James Cacheris found that she had violated Davison’s First Amendment rights by blocking him from leaving comment, because, in his judgment, the chairwoman, Phyllis Randall, was using her Facebook page in a public capacity. Though it was a personal account, she used it to solicit comments from constituents.
“The suppression of critical commentary regarding elected officials is the quintessential form of viewpoint discrimination against which the First Amendment guards,” the judge stated in his ruling. Cacheris did emphasize that his ruling should not prohibit officials from moderating comments to protect against harassment. Davison was only banned for 12 hours, and Randall faces no penalties. Still, the ruling is one of the first in a growing, thorny legal issue surrounding social media that has already reached the White house.