So You Got Blocked by a Politician on Social Media

If a public official uses their account to carry out their role as an elected official, then their page or account is subject to the First Amendment. 

Physical spaces like public squares and town halls have often been critical forums for South Dakotans to speak out on issues of public importance.  

But with the rise of social media and virtual advocacy opportunities, the avenues for the public to speak with their elected officials have expanded. Facebook comments and Twitter retweets are replacing the public meeting and Zoom meetings have been used in place of public forums. In fact, the Supreme Court recently called these avenues, “the modern public square,” where constituents can “petition their elected representatives and otherwise engage with them in a direct manner.” 

So, if a public official uses their account to carry out their role as an elected official, their page or account is subject to the First Amendment. 

That means they cannot engage in most forms of censorship such as blocking someone or deleting someone’s comments just because of their subject or opinion. It is also generally unacceptable for the official to ask the platform to delete comments for them. But it’s not all that straightforward, sift through the list of commonly asked questions below.  

1. How to determine if an official’s social media account is being used as an extension of their office

Q.How to determine if an official’s social media account is being used as an extension of their office
A.
  • The official identifies as a government official (e.g., includes their official title like @POTUS) on the account. 
  • The official posts announcements about their policies, responsibilities, or actions to communicate and interact with constituents and voters. 
  • The official uses the account to seek or encourage comments about what legislation they should bring or support. 
  • The official uses the account to call official meetings or declare orders within their authority. 
  • The official encourages public discussion on their account or page. 
  • The official allows users to ask for government services on their account. 
  • The page lists or otherwise indicates the official’s title. 

2. Your First Amendment rights and social media

Q.Your First Amendment rights and social media
A.

Even online, your First Amendment rights remain. While private individuals and the platform itself can censor you (block you), government actors cannot generally do the same, based on the content of your communication. If the account page is determined to be official, then they should not exclude anyone for having differing viewpoints. They may not block users, delete comments, or otherwise restrict engagement on the basis of viewpoint. 

If an official’s social media page is being used as an extension of their office, there are certain things they can and cannot do. 

  • They cannot stop people from joining a public conversation on the social media account because of the views they express on the topics being discussed. 
  • They cannot block critical voices from asking for government services through the social media account because of those critical viewpoints. 
  • They cannot prevent people from being able to see social media posts that publicly announce government information or policy because of their viewpoints. 
  • They can block posters for making personal threats and in some cases for the use of profane language. 
  • They can in certain circumstances limit discussions to specific subjects, particularly if done from the outset. 

3. What can I do if I am censored by a government official on social media?

Q.What can I do if I am censored by a government official on social media?
A.

First, be sure to screenshot the censorship or otherwise document any censorship. Next, you should contact the public official for more information, and ask for your access to be restored, as your constitutional rights are being violated. Ask for their social media policy. Finally, point the official, or their office, to these resources, if they still refuse. 

4. Contact us if issues persist

Q.Contact us if issues persist
A.

Please fill out our intake form. Include as much of the following information as you can: 

  • A description of the problem, including if you believe your rights were violated because of your viewpoint. 
  • A link to documentation that you were blocked or otherwise censored, or an explanation of how you know you were censored. 
  • The name and/or the URL of the social media page. 
  • Information about any attempts you’ve made to contact the public official directly, as well as any response you received. 

We collect information about the violation of peoples’ rights so we can understand the scope of the problem, but we aren’t able to help everyone who contacts us.