You’re Blocked! Should Public Officials Be Allowed to Stifle Speech On Social Media?

By Peter Kourkouvis

I. Introduction

Last May, the Southern District of New York ruled in Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University v. Trump (Knight Institute) that President Trump violated the First Amendment rights of seven individuals when he blocked them from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account because of their critical comments.[1] Merely the highest-profile instance of a burgeoning phenomenon, people across the U.S. have complained about elected officials blocking them from their social media pages.[2] Since the Knight Institute decision, the Fourth Circuit became the first court of appeals to decide that such exclusion violates the First Amendment.[3] Lawmakers have been put on notice.[4]

However, the issue remains unsettled. Central to determining whether public officials’ blocking of the public from their social media pages violates the First Amendment is determining whether a social media page can constitute a public forum. This Article examines this controversial issue by first discussing the Supreme Court’s public forum doctrine in Part II. Then, Part III discusses how courts have applied forum analysis to public officials’ social media pages. In Part IV, I argue that the approach taken by the Southern District of New York and the Fourth Circuit conforms with public forum analysis, makes sense given popular usage of social media, and best serves the policy of promoting robust discussion on social media, while also providing government officials guidance as to how to avoid violating the public’s First Amendment rights.

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