Government officials use social media to communicate with all of us. They use websites and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, to share information on their policy agendas, upcoming events, and matters of public importance.
Often, government representatives invite the public to engage with them and other members of the public in conversations on social media by creating public accounts and pages. When government officials do so, they have to let members of the public use social media to talk with them and interact with other people.
This means that, most of the time, government representatives are not allowed to block you or delete your comments on their official social media accounts, particularly based on your point of view. They generally must let you write on their Facebook wall, tweet at them, or post comments.
Is this true for all social media accounts?
- This is true for all official social media accounts. A government representative generally cannot block you from a social media account that is:
- (1) Open to the public – meaning all interested parties are able to post on it – AND
- (2) Used for official purposes – meaning that it is an account used for official announcements, for sharing government information with the public at large, or that has been officially verified by the agency or office of the government representative.
- This is NOT true for a government representative’s private social media account used for personal purposes.
- Government representatives are allowed to have their own private social media accounts.
- If it is not open to the public and not being used for official purposes, the government representative is allowed to block you or delete your comments.
- BUT if the government representative uses his or her personal account for official purposes, then it may legally be treated as an official account for purposes of the First Amendment.
Is this true for all government officials or representatives?
- This is true for every person who serves as a government representative, elected or not, at the city, county, state, and national levels.
- For example, it applies to the official social media accounts of the President, a congressperson in the U.S. House of Representatives, a City Council member, and a judge.
- This is also true for all general government pages for departments and agencies at the city, county, state, and national levels.
- For example, it applies to the official social media accounts of the Honolulu Police Department and the Board of Water Supply.
Why can’t they block you?
- Courts have found that social media sites are “limited public forums.” This means that social media sites are a space where the government has to allow freedom of speech.
- The First Amendment protects the rights of people to share their views in public forums.
What sort of thing can you post?
- You have a right to post your views, questions, and comments on a government representative’s official social media account.
- You can share your thoughts in writing, through images, or with links.
- You have a right to disagree with a government representative on their social media account and post ideas that are different than theirs.
- You cannot be blocked for posting comments just because someone views them as disrespectful or impolite.
What should you do if you are blocked by a government representative?
- If you are blocked by a government representative, you should contact them and share the information on this page. If you send them a letter or email, you can attach a copy of this letter,which we sent in January 2019 to the executive and legislative representatives of Hawaii’s federal, state, and local governments.
- Also, please contact the ACLU of Hawaii at: https://acluhi.org/need-legal-help/