Virginia Official Violated First Amendment by Blocking Man From Commenting on Her Facebook Page

This is the second case in the last 7 days involving people using Facebook to raise public-corruption concerns.

Brian Davison is a conscious public citizen, active in local politics. Among other things, he’s concerned about potential corruption in his local government–specifically conflicts of interest among the local school board.

Earlier this year, Brian went to a town-hall meeting that included the local school board and county board of supervisors. Brian posed a question to Phyllis Randall, the county board president, about whether she or other county officials would take an ethics pledge. (Apparently she had campaigned on this ethics issue.)

Phyllis J. Randall, Chair of the Board of Supervisors for Loudoun County, Virginia. (Reness Greene/Loudoun Now)

Chairwoman Randall did not “appreciate” the question, viewing it as a “set-up question.” Brian was not satisfied with her answer, and–right there in the meeting–took to Chairwoman Randall’s official Facebook page (not her personal page) to express his frustration. Brian posted a comment, essentially accusing the school board of having ethical conflicts of interest because of certain “family members.”

Chairwoman Randall thought that Brian’s comment was “probably not something she wanted to leave” on her Facebook page, so she deleted it that same night “in the heat of the moment.” She then also blocked Brian from her Facebook page because, if Brian “was the type of person that would make comments about people’s family members,” then she “didn’t want him to be commenting on her site.” The next morning, Chairwoman Randall changed her mind and unblocked Brian from her Facebook page.

Brian sued, arguing that Chairwoman Randall violated his First Amendment rights. He won. The Court ruled against Chairwoman Randall and held (1) that her conduct constituted action by the government, not a private party; (2) that she had, by using an Facebook page for her official public office, created a “forum” for speech, relying in part on a recent Supreme Court case about internet speech; and (3) that she had engaged in viewpoint discrimination by blocking Brian (even for just 12 hours) from her page because she disagreed with Brian’s message.

This case is very analogous to the lawsuit against President Trump for blocking users’ access to his Twitter account. We’ll have to wait and see how these cases play out in the coming months and years.

UPDATE: Mr. Davison has provided more detail to this case in his comment below.

Case: Davison v. Loudoun Cty. Bd. of Supervisors, No. 1:16-CV-932 (E.D. Va. July 25, 017) (opinion here)

2 thoughts on “Virginia Official Violated First Amendment by Blocking Man From Commenting on Her Facebook Page

  1. Just a minor correction on the sequence of events.

    The case was filed in July 2016 when my comments on the Loudoun County gov’t FB page mysteriously disappeared within seconds. Through a subpoena to Facebook, I learned that their algorithm allowed users to report certain users as generating spam and block all of their comments. Thus, I withdrew my claim for the disappearing comments around April 2017.

    The claim against Randall was added in a Sep 2016 amended complaint only after the Loudoun lawyer argued that all of these Facebook pages were private and thus the officials could discriminate against citizen comments on any basis. That made Randall’s short blocking of my comments in Feb 2016 ripe since Randall was claiming she could do so again in the future.

    A minor correction but users might be misled into thinking I filed a court case solely on a 12-hour block which is not accurate.

    Liked by 1 person

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