CHICAGO— The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University today sent a letter to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on behalf of Gregory Mantell, who was blocked from the mayor’s official Facebook page after he posted a link to a video concerning rising crime rates in Chicago in the page’s comment section. The letter asks the mayor to immediately unblock Mr. Mantell as well as other people she or her staff has blocked from the 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.
“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 Lyndsey Wajert, a legal fellow with the Knight First Amendment Institute. “Mayor Lightfoot should immediately unblock Mr. Mantell and anyone else she’s blocked from her Facebook page simply because she disagrees with them or doesn’t like what they’ve posted.”
The Knight Institute’s letter explains that the Chicago mayor’s office Facebook page shares important information with the public in the form of posts, videos, and livestreams, which visitors to the page can comment on and interact with. The page has more than 225,000 followers, and the mayor’s livestreams frequently attract thousands of viewers. Indeed, the mayor’s office uses the page to notify the public of virtual community town halls, to provide important updates on the COVID-19 pandemic, among other issues, and to share livestreams of press conferences.
“Before being blocked, I frequently visited the mayor’s Facebook page to stay informed about a range of things going on in Chicago,” said Mr. Mantell, an independent journalist who covers Chicago for his news service. “I take seriously my First Amendment right, even obligation, to engage with the mayor about public matters that affect my audience in Chicago.”
Mr. Mantell was blocked from the mayor’s Facebook page on or around September 20, 2020. In response to a media press conference posted to the page, Mr. Mantell posted a comment with a link to a video he produced concerning rising crime rates in Chicago in the page’s comment section. He was subsequently blocked, and his comment was removed from the page. The letter also notes that in response to an Illinois Freedom of Information Act request filed by Mr. Mantell, the mayor’s office provided records indicating that Mayor Lightfoot or her staff have blocked 12 other individuals from the mayor’s page.
In 2019, the Second and Fourth Circuits both 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.” In August, the government petitioned the Supreme Court to review that decision, and the Court is meeting today to consider whether to grant the petition.
Read today’s letter here.
For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, Communications Director, firstname.lastname@example.org.