The day before her swearing in, Phyllis J. Randall created a new Facebook page and encouraged citizens to share their criticism and compliments. A month later, Randall removed what she considered a "defamatory" charge delivered anonymously and aimed at another person. She blocked the commentator from his page. The ban was brief, no more than 12 hours. But the fallout sparked an innovative federal case that has implications for how President Trump manages his active Twitter account and on his millions of followers. Randall, a Democrat and the first African-American woman elected to head a county supervisory board in Virginia, has little in common with the president. She criticized Trump as "the bully of the school against which we warn our children" and "unfit to hold a position". But the two elected officials have been sued for silencing criticism on social media. In separate files, they claim that their accounts on private digital platforms are personal and that they can restrict access to speech. Government officials across the country are learning to navigate what freedom of expression advocates describe as the digital equivalent of traditional meetings. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (right) reached a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union after blocking hundreds of people on his Facebook page. Police Chief D. Newsham, Peter Newsham, appeared to be violating the city's social media policy when he blocked subscribers from his personal Twitter account for what he called "cruel and mean" messages. [D.C. police chief blocked some Twitter followers, calling posts “cruel and nasty”]
Brian Davison, a local activist, sued the chairman of the Loudoun County Supervisory Board after getting stuck on his Facebook page. (Ricky Carioti / The Washington Post) In Virginia, the Richmond Federal Court of Appeal is about to become the first to answer the question of whether the protections afforded by the First Amendment prevent public servants from closing their doors. social media feeds. The case against Trump is in its infancy at the Federal Court of Appeal in New York, where it is represented by the Department of Justice. "The @realDonaldTrump account is neither owned nor controlled by the federal government; it belongs to Donald Trump on a personal basis, "said lawyers at the agency. The use by the president of the "blocking function" is "simply an exercise of his personal power, and non-governmental, to exclude individuals from this private account." But advocates of freedom of expression at the root of both lawsuits claim that blocking critical comments or followers equates to: an elected official closing the door to voters at a public meeting. "You do not want public servants to choose who has the right to speak," said Katherine Fallow of the Knight First Amendment Institute of Columbia University, who is handling cases in Virginia. and in New York. "You want to make sure that all the voices are heard in this forum in order to see a fair and faithful representation of what people think, rather than as an echo chamber." District court judges in Virginia and New York ruled against Randall and the president, claiming their actions violated the first amendment.
President Donald Trump's tweet is photographed on a computer screen in Washington on April 3, 2017. (J. David Ake / AP) A judge in a third case in Kentucky sits on the governor's side Matt Bevin (right), who has blocked Twitter and Facebook subscribers. The Supreme Court has not yet taken the issue head-on but acknowledged the growing importance of social media in public debate. "While in the past, it may have been difficult to identify the most important places (in the spatial sense) for the exchange of views, the answer is clear today. It's cyberspace – the "vast, democratic Internet forums" in general, and social media in particular, "wrote Judge Anthony M. Kennedy in a 2017 decision overturning a North Carolina law banning offenders to visit certain social media sites. "These websites can be the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his voice heard."[[[[Trump has violated the Constitution by blocking critics on Twitter, Judge Judge]Randall's Facebook page is separate from the county-managed account governed by a social media policy. She wants to have the latitude to control what is said on her own unofficial page. For example, wish people a happy Easter or say "God bless you" without opposing the First Amendment. "I created it, I run it. It's entirely up to me what's going on there and I'm showing what's important to me. This is my page, "she says. The events that led to the lawsuit brought by local activist Brian Davison were exposed during a one day trial before US District Judge James C. Cacheris last spring. When Randall became a board member, she invited residents of Loudoun to share their views on her "Phyllis J. Randall" page. She encouraged voters to use her county page and e-mail address for round-trip conversations. Shortly after, in February 2016, Randall published an article about a public meeting she attended with school officials. This sparked the problematic comment: allegations of corruption and conflicts of interest involving members of the governing board and their relatives. The comment was issued by a user identified at the end of the month as "Virginia SGP". Randall stated that she admits that the criticisms addressed to her are part of the job. But, she said, anonymously denigrating the families of other officials went too far. That night, she noted the entire thread and blocked "Virginia SGP". Randall rethought and unblocked the user the next day, she said, as she had campaigned to improve government transparency. Davison is the only person Randall has ever blocked, she said, and continues to post on her page. "I believe in the First Amendment," Randall said. She became emotional during an interview stating that, rather than pursuing a court case, "I want to fix potholes and decide where to build schools." But Randall said that she thought she was appealing. "I am an honest player, but does everyone play the game of the life of an elected official? Where is the line? Davison is a software consultant and local activist with two children in Loudoun County schools. He has been in trouble in court with mixed results. Another federal judge in Virginia dismissed one of her lawsuits last year and school board members continue to block her from their Facebook pages. The comment blocked by Randall came from the account Davison uses to defend the politics of local schools. His allegations, he said, indicated what he regarded as conflicts of interest and not as "slanders". "Most people in power want to control the channels of communication," he said. "That's what it's about. There are people on both sides of the political spectrum who are protecting their power. On the night he was blocked, Davison sent an email to Loudoun's supervisors and the county attorney, claiming the blockade was unconstitutional. He also tagged Randall in a Facebook publication, claiming that she had "gone to the Federal Court of Alexandria to explain why you discriminate based on the comments received." Randall stated that she had not seen the email or Facebook posting until she had not seen it. reopened his page. Clear rules are needed, Davison said, to protect the speech and prevent politicians across the country from excluding critics. Randall worked in the penitentiary system as a mental health therapist before being elected chair of the Loudoun County Supervisory Board in 2015. The first thing she placed on the wall of her office at Fifth floor was a framed copy of an ethical code that she proposed to encourage transparency within the government. Signs indicating the march of women, the march for our lives against armed violence and a framed photo of President Barack Obama are hanging nearby. She characterizes the case in the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit as a "huge nightmare" and strongly opposes her role and implications, not only for her legacy but because of what she says. a decision could mean for Trump and what she sees as her fastest blocks. "We are not on the same wavelength," she said, "that's why it's so horrible for me." On appeal to the 4th circuit this fall, the judges examined whether a social network account managed by a public official looked like an official government forum and subject to constitutional protections. Leo P. Rogers, the county attorney representing Randall, told the three-judge appeals committee that the government did not control Randall's page. Through Facebook, she was acting in her personal capacity, he said, just as politicians in her story delivered campaign speeches at their doorstep or at private fundraisers. Judges Pamela Harris, Barbara Milano Keenan and James A. Wynn Jr. then went on to find out whether there was a distinction between the "Phyllis J. Randall Chair" page for Randall County's activities and two others that Randall supports – one personal and the other policy. . [Analysis: A peek inside Trump’s twitter bubble] Regardless of the outcome, the court recognized its important role in resolving the problem. "You have in front of me a blockbuster deal right in front of you," Wynn said during a pleading. "This thing is echoing." The panel could rule at any time. The oral argument in the president's appeal in New York is expected for this winter. .