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Recent Supreme Court Decisions Impact First Amendment Rights on Social Media

In two landmark decisions on March 15, 2024, the United States Supreme Court addressed the issue of First Amendment rights in the context of social media. These decisions, O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier, 601 U.S. 205 (2024), and Lindke v. Freed, 601 U.S. 187 (2024), have significant implications for both public officials and social media users.

Determining Government Accountability on Social Media

The Supreme Court ruled that public officials who post about work-related topics on personal social media accounts are effectively acting on behalf of the government. This means they can be held liable for violating the First Amendment if they block critics.

Differentiating Between Personal and Official Communication

The Court also clarified that actions like deleting comments and blocking individuals have different implications under the First Amendment. While deleting comments may only affect personal posts, blocking someone from a page that contains official posts could prevent them from commenting on matters of public interest.

O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier

In this case, the Ninth Circuit ruled that school board members violated the First Amendment rights of parents by blocking them from personal social media accounts used to provide information about board activities. The Court found a close connection between the trustees’ use of their social media pages and their official positions, resulting in a violation of the First Amendment.

Lindke v. Freed

However, in a separate case, the Sixth Circuit found no First Amendment violation when a city manager blocked a resident from his personal Facebook page. Since the city manager did not use the page for work-related purposes, his actions were not considered to be in his capacity as a public official.

Implications for Public Officials

These rulings emphasize the importance of public officials carefully considering what and how they post on social media. There is a clear distinction between personal and official communication, and actions on social media could have legal consequences.

In Conclusion:

In light of these Supreme Court decisions, it is crucial for public officials to understand the distinction between personal and official communication on social media. Failure to do so could result in legal liability. If you have specific inquiries regarding this update, please feel free to contact us.

Paul T. Smyth
Paul T. Smyth