Protecting Speech on Social Media Pages Created by Government Officials. Brian Davison v. Phyllis Randall
Brian Davison, a resident of Loudoun County, Virginia, filed a lawsuit in federal court after the Chair of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, Phyllis Randall, temporarily blocked him from posting on the Facebook page she used for county business. In May 2017, Mr. Davison represented himself at trial. The trial court found that the Facebook page was a public forum and that Mr. Davison’s speech rights were violated. The case is now on appeal to the federal U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond.
On November 27, 2017, the ACLU national and its affiliates in Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, and West Virginia filed a brief in support of Mr. Davison in the appeals court. In its brief, the ACLU argues that, under the First Amendment, government officials cannot censure content on social media pages used for official business. All parties agree that government officials, like private citizens, may block whomever they choose from truly personal social media pages. The case centers on whether a Facebook page used solely to communicate with constituents is personal because it is not controlled by the government, or whether courts should look to the substance of how an official’s social media page is used to determine whether the First Amendment applies.