The Hamilton Township plaintiffs are celebrating their victory (in the form of a settlement and consent decree) against a public official that blocked them from an official Facebook page where information was being publicly disseminated. This win may be the first of many in the line of recent cases over whether individuals can be blocked by official government social media channels.
The consent decree, approved by the federal district court, orders Township Trustee David Wallace Jr. to unblock the residents from the Facebook page and "any other social media site" that is used as an official, non-personal, communication channel.
What's the Deal With Blocking?
Blocking people on social media is often necessary in order to keep your feeds under control and free from harassment or unwanted foul language. While some sites allow you to restrict who can see your content, officials, businesses, and governments tend to have pages and profiles that are open to the public. As such, when it comes to official government social media channels, blocking raises some serious First Amendment issues due to their public nature.
In addition to receiving information being "officially" disseminated, often, users on social media want to voice their opinions via written comments, images, memes, and gifs. As such, when there is a government entity on a social media platform, there is a "limited public forum" where constituents can engage in debate and discussion. Fortunately, content neutral restrictions, such as general civility and website specific code of conduct policies, can be enforced and used to censor online comments.
What's This Settlement Mean?
While the Hamilton Township case may be resolved, there are still several social media "blocking" lawsuits currently ongoing. These lawsuits will likely be examining the consent decree and settlement to see if a similar path could resolve those matters.
Likely, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against President Trump based on the many Twitter followers that he has blocked will be particularly interested. Interestingly, it has come out that President Trump's infamous Twitter accounts may not be run solely by POTUS, but rather, by social media director Dan Scavino.