A recent case in Port Huron, Michigan has now made its way to the United States Supreme Court, and could have implications as to how State Officials handle online trolls, and harassing accounts moving forward.

The claim is that a City Official violated a resident's first amendment right to speak critically of them on a social media platform. They allegedly deleted comments made against them, and blocked them from ever commenting again. But were their rights actually violated?

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The actual suit dates back to 2020 when Port Huron City manager James Freed blocked resident Kevin Lindke on social media, and deleted comments that were critical of Freed, and how he was handling the pandemic. The accusations came from Lindke's personal Facebook account, however the comments were made on Freed's personal page as well.

Initially, Lindke charged that his First Amendment right to be critical of Freed in a public platform was being violated, and he was essentially being silenced from speaking on a public matter. Such a matter on social media, involving a public official's account, had never been considered up until that point.

How Did The Judges Rule?

Initially, the district court and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals both ruled in favor of Freed, saying he was exercising HIS first amendment right to block Lindke from following him and commenting on his personal account.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated that judgement, and added new context. I'll spare you the legalese, but basically, if Freed was given authority to act on behalf of the city in his post and comments section, then he is likely violating Lindke's right to free speech on a public matter in a public forum.

However, if Freed was using his own voice, outside of the official city's capacity, then he did NOT violate Lindke's First Amendment right to comment, and is free to delete, or block whatever content he wants.

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Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett used an example, saying...

"If the president of a local school board announces during a meeting the lifting of a pandemic-era restriction, then they are acting in their official capacity. However, if that same president attends a barbecue with friends and shares the same information, then they are acting in their personal capacity, NOT as school board president."

Since Freed uses his account for both official, and unofficial material in his position, it was determined to be unclear as to whether he actually violated Lindke's First Amendment. However, Coney Barrett warned that deleting specific comments, even on a mixed-use page where Freed has acted in official capacity before, could lead to future liability issues.

So, Can Michigan Officials Block You on Social Media?

Well, again, it's tricky. According to the Supreme Court ruling, if it's their own personal account, that is never used in an official capacity in regards to the government they serve, then yes, they can block you. State judges would determine whether this was the case, and rule appropriately based on the answer there.

BUT, if in any way, they use that account to spread information regarding their position that isn't available in other public platforms, then blocking the individual, and deleting comments is a violation of their First Amendment Right, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now to start compiling a list of all the politicians who have blocked me on twitter to see how far we can take this.

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