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Shout Heard Around Social Media: Facebook Page Is a Public Forum

Brian Davison is a self-appointed government watchdog and Loudon County's worst nightmare.

He complained about school board members and other concerns, posting his criticisms on a county supervisor's Facebook page. Supervisor Phyllis Randall then blocked him from commenting.

So Davison sued the supervisor, and the man won. It turned out to be the shout heard around the social media world.

First Amendment

In Davison v. Randall, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said the supervisor violated the First Amendment. Because the supervisor designated the page as official, the appeals court said, the comments were protected speech.

"That Randall's action targeted comments critical of the school board members' official actions and fitness for office renders the banning all the more problematic as such speech 'occupies the core of the protection afforded by the First Amendment,'" Judge James Wynn Jr. wrote for the three-member panel.

Lata Nott, executive director of the First Amendment Center at the Freedom Forum Institute, said a social media page can be considered a public forum. It does not mean people can post anything they want, however.

"It just means that if a public official uses their social media page to communicate with their constituents, they can't ban someone from posting on that page based on that person's viewpoint," she told Courthouse News.

Social Media

It's not the first time a court has called out a politician for violating free speech on social media. Last year, a federal judge ruled that President Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking comments on Twitter.

In that case, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said the president's Twitter page was a public forum because he used it for official purposes. She said "no government official -- including the President -- is above the law."

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