IRVINE— The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University today sent a letter to Irvine, CA, mayor, Christina L. Shea on behalf of a constituent blocked from the mayor’s Facebook page after she replied to the mayor’s posts about the ongoing protests of police brutality. The letter asks the mayor to immediately stop blocking people and deleting comments from her Facebook page based on their viewpoints. Courts have recently held in Knight Institute lawsuits that public officials violate the First Amendment when they block critics from their official social media accounts.
“Mayor Shea consistently uses her ostensibly personal Facebook account to communicate with the public about official government business, including responding in her official capacity to the ongoing protests of police brutality and sharing public health information about the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Meenakshi Krishnan, Legal Fellow at the Knight Institute. “When public officials use personal accounts for official government business and open those accounts to the public at large, they cannot exclude people based solely on viewpoint. That’s what Mayor Shea has done here.”
The Knight Institute’s letter explains that Mayor Shea or her staff blocked Nikka Aminmadani, a native of Irvine who relies on the mayor’s Facebook page to follow mayoral policies and proposals for the City of Irvine, after she responded to posts criticizing protesters in Irvine as well as Black Lives Matter. In one comment, Ms. Aminmadani objected to the mayor’s use of the phrase “All Lives Matter” and wrote, “I want to preface this with saying that this comes out of a place of respect and an attempt to help you learn because you have a lot to learn. You should first promote for police to treat black Americans with respect and dignity so that they are able to walk out of their homes without the fear of experiencing systemic racism in the same way that you have this freedom.” Shortly after posting this and a related comment, Ms. Aminmadani was blocked.
The letter also notes that news reports indicate that Mayor Shea and her staff have blocked several other people and deleted their comments from her Facebook page based on their expressed views. Today’s letter calls upon the mayor to immediately unblock Ms. Aminmadani and any other users blocked because of their views, and to cease deleting comments based on their views.
In 2019, the Second and Fourth Circuits held that public officials who block people from their official social media accounts based on viewpoint are violating the First Amendment. Most recently, 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.” On March 23, the court denied the president’s request for a full-court review of the 2019 unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel. The government has until August 20, 2020, to seek review from the Supreme Court in that case.
Read today’s letter here.
For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, Knight First Amendment Institute, firstname.lastname@example.org.