First Amendment Protects Negative Comments on Government Official’s Facebook PageFebruary 7, 2019 – Alerts
In a decision that should serve as a warning to any school board member who communicates by social media, a federal appeals court ruled that a public official who established an official government Facebook page had created a “public forum” and subsequently violated the First Amendment rights of an individual who she banned from the page for posting negative comments.
The ruling in Davison v. Randall by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is binding law only in a handful of states, but could be considered influential by judges everywhere because it sets a precedent for how courts should decide whether a Facebook page triggers First Amendment concerns.
Effect on Schools and School Districts
It is important to note that the court’s decision is binding only in the states located within the jurisdiction of the Fourth Circuit – Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. However, the ruling could be influential in federal courts throughout the country because it marks the first time a public official’s Facebook page has been deemed a public forum.
Similarly, if a board member establishes a personal Facebook page, he or she should not post about activities or events involving the school district and should not invite the public to comment about the school district.