On Friday, March 15, 2024, the United States Supreme Court weighed in on the ability of public officials to block critics on social media accounts.

In Lindke v. Freed, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court established a test or factors to consider when determining if a public official had a right to block critics on social media accounts. The record of the case showed that Freed maintained a private Facebook account, which was updated to include his appointment to city manager of Port Huron, Michigan in 2014. He utilized his Facebook account to post about his personal life, information related to his job, soliciting feedback on issues of concern, and communicating matters from other areas of the city. Freed would comment to posts on his account and occasionally deleted posts he considered “derogatory” or “stupid.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, community member Lindke posted his displeasure with how the city was handling the pandemic on Freed’s Facebook page. Freed deleted these posts and eventually blocked Lindke from commenting on Freed’s Facebook page. Lindke sued alleging Freed violated his First Amendment Rights.

In its decision, the U.S. Supreme Court set a standard that a public official’s social media activity could be considered state action only if the official:
(1) possessed actual authority to speak on the State’s behalf, and
(2) purported to exercise that authority when he spoke on social media.

The Court clearly indicated “[w]hile public officials can act on behalf of the State, they are also private citizens with their own constitutional rights.” The Court provided guidance on what public officials could do to do to avoid having their social media pages, and the actions on the same, called into legal question.

Board of Education members and other public employees can assist by making matters clear to the community and courts (if challenged) through:
1. Considering single-use social media (only an official page and only a personal page). The Court highlighted the concern with “mixed-use” social media.
2. Clearly designating social media pages as personal or official.
3. Consider a disclaimer (e.g., “the views expressed are strictly my own”) to create a presumption that posts are personal.
4. Review of policies and actions (i.e. past practice) to consider who is responsible for the official messaging of the board of education.