Court Battles

First Amendment group calls on Rep. Massie to unblock critics on Twitter

A free speech advocacy group on Tuesday called on Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) to restore access to Twitter users who were blocked from his official account amid a backlash to a controversial family photograph the congressman tweeted.

In a four-page letter, the Knight First Amendment Institute pointed Massie to court rulings that interpreted government officials’ Twitter accounts to be public forums, and said blocking followers due to their critical views violated constitutional speech protections.

“Multiple courts have held that public officials’ social media accounts constitute public forums when they are used in the way that you use the @RepThomasMassie account, and they have made clear that public officials violate the First Amendment when they block users from these fora on the basis of viewpoint,” reads the letter from the Institute, which is housed at Columbia University.

Massie sparked outrage last week when he tweeted a Christmas card photograph depicting himself and family members clutching AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles and other firearms just days after a deadly school shooting in Michigan. The shooting renewed calls by lawmakers and advocates for gun control legislation.

“Merry Christmas!” Massie’s tweet said, adding, “ps. Santa, please bring ammo.” 

The post drew widespread condemnation on Twitter, apparently prompting Massie or the manager of his account to block critics. 

Among those blocked were Mike Masnick, founder and editor-in-chief of the tech policy website Techdirt, whom the Knight Institute is representing in the matter.

Attempts to reach Massie’s office were not immediately returned.

A major First Amendment court clash over government officials’ blocking of Twitter critics arose under former President Trump. 

Lower federal courts found that Trump’s Twitter account, where he often weighed in on official matters, constituted a public forum and that blocking his detractors violated their free speech rights.

The Trump administration had asked the Supreme Court to take up its appeal in the case. But following Trump’s 2020 electoral loss and his ban from Twitter, his administration dropped its request on the eve of President Biden’s inauguration, arguing that the change in administrations would make the case moot.

Tags Donald Trump first amendment free speech gun control legislation Joe Biden Michigan high school shooting Social media Thomas Massie

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