Case Overview

School board trustees Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff and T.J. Zane embraced the interactive nature of social media. They used their personal Facebook and Twitter accounts to solicit feedback from constituents, invite the public to board meetings, and answer questions. But when they tired of two concerned parents’ probing commentary, the trustees hit the block button. 

In an attempt to justify their censorial actions, the trustees argued that they were acting as private citizens, and not government officials, when they blocked citizens from interacting with their social media accounts. The Ninth Circuit, like most courts that have considered similar cases, didn’t buy this argument. Instead, the court correctly examined the content and appearance of their pages to determine the trustees had “displayed a badge to the public signifying that their accounts reflected their official roles.”

Unfortunately, the trustees are not alone. Too many officials harness the power of social media while also selectively blocking or banning certain members of the public from interacting with their accounts. Officeholders who opt to use their social media accounts as tools of governance forfeit the ability to cancel critics or delete unfavorable comments.

On August 15, 2023, FIRE filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, urging it to affirm that the trustees and other officials who use “personal” accounts to carry out their official duties cannot violate the First Amendment by engaging in viewpoint discrimination.