VENICE- As an active user of social media, I’m aware of LA City office holders and candidates for city office who block constituents, or in the case of candidates' potential constituents, from their social media accounts.
I myself was blocked on Twitter by CD11 councilman, Mike Bonin. I didn’t insult him, I cited his actions (and inactions). He blocked me from his personal, not his official city account. The problem with that is that he uses his personal account, seemingly exclusively, to promote his city government agenda. I am his constituent, his agenda affects me. But furthermore, I have the right to speak out about it.
In 2019 it was determined by a federal appeals court that then President Trump could not block people from following his Twitter account. Not even if they criticized him, not even if they outright mocked him (I didn’t mock Bonin).
The judge determined that a social media account used by a public official for government purposes was, in essence, a forum. And barring someone from participating in it with a response, constituted a violation of their First Amendment rights. The First Amendment protects “freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances”.
That court decision, obviously, has further implications. Here’s one of them:
It’s become a matter of pride on Twitter for people to post when Kenneth Mejia, candidate for LA City Controller, blocks them. CD11 Council District candidate Erin Darling has blocked people as well, but Mejia is the primary culprit. I imagine that people were blocked for criticism of the candidate. The candidate in question receives a lot of criticism.
Here’s the legal issue: Can a candidate for city office legally block a potential constituent? I would argue no. While the candidate does not yet hold city office, and may never, they are engaging in government business.
I’m engaging in government business when I vote, but I can block whomever I like. The difference is I’m receiving no government funding to vote. But approved candidates for LA City office do receive funding.
Candidates Mejia and Darling are both in LA City’s Matching Fund program. This is the purpose of the program as explained at https://ethics.lacity.org/publications/matching-funds-faq/. “The matching fund's program was enacted by Los Angeles voters and provides limited public funding to help qualified City candidates run their campaigns for elected office without relying on large donors or excessive fundraising.”
The funds received from the city match individual campaign contributions at a rate of $6 to $1. There are limits to it which you can read about in the FAQ link above but let it suffice that Mejia, and Darling for that matter, are receiving these funds. The City of LA is essentially paying them to campaign to the public. That, to my mind, makes them public officials.
And as public officials: blocking people from social media accounts used to campaign, constitutes a violation of the First Amendment.
If you feel similarly, consider writing email@example.com to say so.
To conclude my story, I made the case to Twitter Support that Councilman Bonin blocking me constituted an infringement of my rights. And either as a result of Twitter’s intervention, or of Bonin’s desire for transparency growing three sizes that day (now I’ve mocked him) Bonin unblocked me.