In a world where information can spread faster than we can keep track of, social media can be both a blessing and a curse. The government can communicate about emergencies, find out where public opinion lies on an issue and even humanize politicians and agencies in the eyes of the people. You can also upset your citizens easily with an ill-timed or poorly worded post.
If you end up with an irate comment on a government Facebook post, what can you do about it? Critics flooding official pages with anger might not look good to your citizens. Are you allowed to delete or block your constituents for any reason on social media?
Posting online counts as free speech
The answer is that for the most part, the government cannot block anyone. The First Amendment protects online communication just like all other forms of free speech. The Constitution prevents the government from censoring anyone’s opinion, and that applies to all forms of social media as well.
The difference between a private and public account
When can you block people or delete comments? An individual government worker is allowed to block people on social media as long as they only use that account for non-government matters. The only type of accounts that are considered official government accounts are:
- Accounts that clearly belong to the government based on the name
- Personally-owned accounts of government officials that post about government activity
- Government official accounts that allow for public discussion on their page
A private social media account is one which is only used to post about personal matters, or only shares government posts instead of creating them. Free speech laws allow all private citizens to block anyone they want to.
Be sure to use tact when handling negativity online. Not only can wise use of social media save you from First Amendment lawsuits—it can also improve the connection between you and your citizens.