The Supreme Court Considers Social Media’s Role in Political Discourse
By Olivia Augustini
Recently, The Supreme Court began to hear arguments for a new series of critical cases which will help define the role of social media in society. The justices will consider the relevant question: When a public official blocks someone from their social media page does that violate the Constitution’s First Amendment? The cases before the Court echo issues raised in a previous suits against then-President Donald Trump and current President Joe Biden for blocking their critics on Twitter. Yet, the issue extends from the national level down to local governments.
Courts across the country have heard disputes between citizens and their city manager, school board, and other local representatives. Blocking a user from interacting with a public official’s social media account exacerbates the growing news desert. The rise of social media disrupted the news industry, sending traditional sources into financial distress. In the past fifteen years, more than 20% of newspapers have shut down, leaving thousands of communities at risk of becoming a news desert. The people with the least access to local news are usually the most vulnerable — the poorest, the least educated, and the most isolated. Therefore, when a rural constituent is blocked from accessing a public official’s social media, they could be blocked from accessing important local news.
The Stanton Foundation First Amendment Clinic at Vanderbilt Law School submitted an amicus brief to the Court to advocate for the First Amendment right to access social media platforms of government and agencies. For First Amendment purposes, social media plays an important role for disseminating governmental information, facilitating communication between officials and constituents, and providing opportunities for political discourse. Attempting to appeal to the Court, the amicus brief emphasized the strain placed on rural communities when access to public information is limited.
During the Court’s hearing, Justice Kagan emphasized the trend of more government operations being moved to social media and warned that this inquiry will only become increasingly important. However, Justice Kavanaugh and Chief Justice Stevens both express concerns for the rights of the public officials and how a restrictive social media policy will restrict their duties. A resolution in the case is expected by the summer of 2024.
Olivia Augustini is a 2L from McLean, VA. She hopes to practice business technology law in Nashville after law school graduation.
 Lawrence Hurley, Supreme Court wades into social media wars over free speech, NBC News (Oct. 29, 2023, 6:00AM), https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/supreme-court/supreme-court-wades-social-media-wars-free-speech-rcna121716
 Id.; U.S. Const. amend. I.
 Nina Totenberg, Can public officials block you on social media? It’s up to the Supreme Court, (Oct. 31, 2023, 5:11AM), https://www.npr.org/2023/10/31/1208256078/supreme-court-social-media-public-officials-blocking#:~:text=Most%20appeals%20courts%20have%20ruled,that%20the%20court%20hears%20Tuesday.
 Melissa Quinn, Supreme Court grapples with fights over public officials blocking constituents on social media, CBS News (Oct. 31, 2023, 2:49PM), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/supreme-court-social-media-blocking-cases/
 Penelope Muse Abernathy, The Loss of Local News: What It Means For Communities, U.S. News Deserts (last visited Oct. 30, 2023), https://www.usnewsdeserts.com/reports/expanding-news-desert/loss-of-local-news/
 Lauren Shatto, First Amendment Clinics Advocate for Presumptive Right to Access Government Social Media Accounts in Supreme Court Amicus Brief, Vand. L. Sch. (July 5, 2023, 11:37AM), https://law.vanderbilt.edu/first-amendment-clinics-advocate-for-presumptive-right-to-access-government-social-media-accounts-in-supreme-court-amicus-brief/
 Id.; U.S. Const. amend. I.
 Quinn, supra note 4.
 Totenberg, supra note 3.