The ACLU of Virginia has advised all of the state’s Congressional representatives and U.S. Senators that it is unconstitutional to block people from official social media accounts and unofficial social media accounts used for official purposes because public officials don’t like the content of the commenter’s speech or because of the viewpoints expressed. In a letter sent August 8, ACLU-VA Executive Director Claire Gastañaga said that social media accounts are a public forum that must be open to all regardless of their views, and that individuals cannot be blocked or banned simply because they disagree with or oppose the views of the public official involved.
The letter was prompted by numerous complaints the ACLU-VA has received from Virginia residents who have been blocked by members of Congress and other public officials across the political spectrum and from both parties. The Fourth Circuit Court has held that speech online should be afforded the same protections as speech offline under the First Amendment. See Bland v. Roberts, 730 F.3d 368, 386 (4th Cir. 2013). The First Amendment protections apply regardless of whether the public official is a federal, state or local official. All public officials should review their social media policies to be sure that their accounts are administered and curated in a manner consistent with the Constitution.