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Could you be sued for blocking someone on Twitter?

Could you be sued for blocking someone on Twitter?

Does blocking someone on Twitter restrict their freedom of speech? The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) think so. In the United States, governors of Maine, Maryland, Kentucky and President Donald Trump have been warned –and in some cases are being sued— for blocking critics on Twitter.

In warning letters, the ACLU has stated that “your social media pages are a public forum, your blocking of these individuals is an unconstitutional restriction on their right to free speech under the First Amendment.”

They point out that by utilising social media, the government has opened themselves to engaging with the public on these forums.  “You and your office have embraced social media as a key means of communicating and interacting with constituents and the public.”

Many of these government agencies defend blocking followers because of unsolicited abuse and spam on social channels. The ACLU notes that if people’s “posted messages do not contain obscenity, threats or other speech that can be lawfully restricted under the First Amendment, members of the public must be allowed to participate in any forum for public expression opened by public officials through online social media.”

How does this impact your organisation?

In the past year, 103 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have been made through the Australian website Right to Know. Of these requests, approximately 85% relate to social media policy and include the policies and procedures for moderating public comments.

The United States government has a long history of protecting the public rights enshrined in the First Amendment and are well versed in social media engagement and risk. In Australia, the number of FOI requests relating to social media policy and procedure shows that this is an issue that will continue to gain momentum, especially for government organisations that have legal requirements to engage with citizens.

What can you do to minimise risk?

Create a social media policy and moderation guide
Create clear social media policies and moderating procedures and make sure your social media team has regular training and support to facilitate them

Create and share your community guidelines
Your community should have a clear understanding of how your organisation responds to comments, abuse and spam. Ensure your community guidelines are prominently displayed on your social platforms and website.

Capture your social media records
Having a social media archiving tool will save the time it takes to manually capture your social media engagement, making it easy to search, retrieve and reference if required.

As with all communication channels, engaging on social media has its share of risks for organisations. By recording your social media engagement and creating a clear policy, moderation guide and community guidelines your organisation will be well placed to respond to FOI requests.

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