WASHINGTON— The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University today sent a letter to Rep. Thomas Massie on behalf of journalist Mike Masnick, who was blocked from the congressman’s official Twitter account. Masnick was blocked after he sent a tweet criticizing the congressman for blocking other people from his Twitter account after they satirized his controversial “Christmas card” tweet featuring a photo of the representative and his family posing with guns in front of a Christmas tree with the message: “Merry Christmas! ps. Santa, please bring ammo.” The letter asks the representative to immediately unblock people blocked from the account based on their viewpoints.
“Multiple courts have held that government-run social media accounts are public forums and that public officials violate the First Amendment if they block people from those forums because of their viewpoints,” said Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute. “In his enthusiasm for the Second Amendment, Representative Massie seems all too willing to trample over the First. He should immediately unblock Mr. Masnick and anyone else he’s blocked from his Twitter account simply because he doesn’t like their comments.”
The Knight Institute’s letter explains that Rep. Massie’s account—@RepThomasMassie—is a “public forum” because he uses the account as an extension of his office, sharing information and commentary about House proceedings and his own actions in Congress, advocating for legislation, and interacting with Twitter users about policy-related matters. The account currently has more than 282,000 followers and many of the representative’s tweets staking out positions on various policies have made headline news.
Masnick was blocked from Rep. Massie’s Twitter account after he responded to other people posting that they had been blocked from the account. In a tweet the following day, Masnick explained:
“Yesterday, I pointed out to @repthomasmassie that, according to Knight v. Trump, it violates the 1st Amendment for a government official to block people on social media from their official government accounts.
“In response, he blocked me. Thomas Massie violates the 1st Amendment.”
The U.S. Courts of Appeals for both the Second and Fourth Circuits have held that public officials who block people from their official social media accounts based on viewpoint are violating the First Amendment. In Knight Institute v. Trump, the Second Circuit held that President Trump could not block users from his @realDonaldTrump account because “he disagree[d] with their speech.” Earlier this year, the Supreme Court found the case to be moot and vacated the Second Circuit decision on that basis, without addressing the merits. Read more about that case here.
Read today’s letter here.
Read a First Amendment guide for public officials using social media here.
For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, communications director, [email protected].