Just because a public official disagrees with your post or comment doesn’t mean they can block you or delete your comments online. As our democracy expands to online platforms, our First Amendment freedoms must remain protected—and that includes on social media.

More than ever, elected officials and government agencies are using social media to communicate with their constituents and the general public. In fact, the Supreme Court has recently recognized that Facebook, Twitter, and Zoom can be “the modern public square,” where constituents can "petition their elected representatives and otherwise engage with them in a direct manner."

Has a public official blocked you, deleted your comments, or censored your social media?

If a public official uses their account to communicate with the public in their role as an elected official, then their page or account is subject to the First Amendment, which protects free speech. That means they cannot engage in most forms of censorship such as blocking someone or deleting someone’s comments simply because of the subject or their opinion.

That's because courts generally classify official social media pages for elected representatives and government organizations as "public forums"—meaning they have some of the strongest protections for free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do if I think I'm wrongly being blocked or my comments are being wrongly deleted? 

  1. Documentation
    1. Take photos or screenshots of the social media account that you were blocked from engaging with, or censored by. Try to document your posts leading up to being blocked as well as any communications, notifications, or messages about your post(s), and the decision to block you or remove your posts.
  2. Confirmation
    1. Follow the flowchart below to determine if your constitutional rights may have been violated
      social media, know your rights, flow chart
  3. Take Action
    1. If the flowchart determines your rights may have been violated, contact the elected official via phone or email and ask to be unblocked
    2. If you receive no response to the above request, download and personalize the ACLU of Iowa’s Template Demand Letter and send it to the elected official. (This letter is only a model intended for use by you, it does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.)
  4. Request Assistance
    1. If you send a letter and receive no response from the elected official after 30 days, contact the ACLU of Iowa by emailing legal.intake@aclu-ia.org.
    2. Please include all any documentation you’ve collected and all your communications with your public official or their staff about being blocked or censored.

Does the First Amendment prevent government officials from blocking members of the public on social media?

  • Yes, in some, but not all, cases.
  • When public officials use social media to conduct government business, blocking people from seeing their page or posting comments may violate the First Amendment, especially if they are allowing others to post comments. If an elected official or government agency uses their social media to share government information, they cannot limit who gets to see that content because of particular opinions. However, if the social media account is a personal account or campaign account associated with a government official, the First Amendment might not apply.

When is a social media account used for official government business (meaning subject to First Amendment protections)?

  • It depends on how the account is being used—whether it is for official government business or whether it is a personal or campaign account.
  • There is no bright-line rule to determine if a social media site is used for government business. In the prominent court cases addressing social media blocking, judges have looked at various factors (below) to consider whether a page is used for government business and, therefore, must be open to the public.
  • A social media page is likely conducting government business if the page:
    • Has links to a public office’s address, email, or phone number
    • Displays government symbols
    • Shares information about government services or meetings
    • Asks for input about how government business should be conducted
    • Allows individuals to ask for government services through the account
  • PLEASE NOTE: This standard does not apply to an official’s personal or campaign social media pages—campaign and personal pages are NOT subject to the First Amendment. Campaign and personal pages can block you.
  • Factors to consider in determining if a page is a campaign page (Note: it is extremely important to go back to when the page was first created in addressing these factors):
    • If the page says “campaign” or similar words in the bio or notes section
    • If the page was originally created to promote an official’s candidacy for office
    • If the official uses the page to solicit bids or promote policies for candidacy
    • If posts promote the idea that the official is fulfilling their campaign promises

Is blocking always illegal on a site used for official government business?

  • No.
  • Because every social media page is different, each instance of censorship needs to be evaluated based on its specific facts. Public officials can block comments not protected by the First Amendment, such as remarks that make a true and immediate threat to another person, incite others to imminently violate the law, or contain obscene language as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court. Additionally, government entities and elected officials can establish a content-neutral social media policy, and the policy may not violate the First Amendment. The policy adopted must be enforced in a viewpoint-neutral and fair manner for all users. Comments that praise or criticize the official or government agency on a particular subject are allowed and cannot be deleted or blocked.

Does the First Amendment prevent public officials from “blocking” members of the public from their private social media?

  • No.
  • Just because an individual gained public office doesn’t mean they are banned from having a private life or private social media. For First Amendment restrictions to apply, a social media page must be run by a government actor for the purposes of conducting government business. For example, a state senator’s personal Facebook page, where they post photos of their kids and reviews of their favorite books or movies, does not qualify as an official government page. The senator can limit their audience and curate messages on their personal page just like any other private person.

Can a government official block or censor me from their campaign’s social media account?

Yes. If it’s truly a campaign social media account, they can limit their audience and curate their message.

A social media account is likely doing campaign business if it:

  • Includes “campaign” or similar words in the bio or notes section
  • Was originally created to promote an official’s candidacy for office
  • Solicits bids or promotes policies for candidacy
  • Promotes the idea that the official is fulfilling their campaign promises