The Right of Petition and Official Social Media

Here’s something I’m going to start thinking about. Could one say that the First Amendment right to petition is implicated when a public official excludes someone from their social media account (say Twitter)?

The petition right is narrower than a free speech right, in that petitions are directed only to public officials.  If someone is excluded from petitioning an official via an important communications channel, is that constitutional so long as there is some other means of doing so that is not too burdensome? My hunch is that the history of the right of petition in English law can tell us a lot about this, but we’ll see.

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6 Responses

  1. Glory to Godot in the Highest says:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/trump-blocks-chrissy-teigen-on-twitter/

    After years of trolling President Donald Trump, model and social media powerhouse Chrissy Teigen says Mr. Trump has finally blocked her on Twitter. Teigen says the straw that broke the camel’s back was her tweet at the president that said no one likes him.

    ———–
    It doesn’t sound like Chrissy was “petitioning” Trump. A petition is more like requesting a law/treaty or a repeal of a law/treaty, a change in an executive department’s agency’s rules, or a petition for Habeas Corpus relief.

    If Chrissy had tweeted a painting of Jackson Pollock, music of Arnold Schönberg, or Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll, that probably would be considered “speech”, not “petitioning” or “exercise of religion”.

    If Damore’s memo was “hate speech/sexual harassment” not “petition”, then surely Chrissy’s tweet wasn’t “petition”.

  2. Joe says:

    I don’t think as a general matter the fact there are alternative means of communication alone is enough though it might factor in if there is a good reason to limit a certain means of communication.

    In Packingham v. NC, the Supreme Court recently noted: “And on Twitter, users can petition their elected representatives and otherwise engage with them in a direct manner.” The importance of online methods of communication was in general noted in that opinion. Of course, there are various social media platforms but it is not as if someone blocked on Twitter can as easily interact with Trump on Facebook or something.

    Anyway, the low bar of “implicated” is very likely met.

    • Brett Bellmore says:

      But Trump hasn’t gotten rid of that very handy literal petition system at the White House website, has he?

      https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/

      There’s that, there’s snail mail, there’s phone calls… at some point method n+1 isn’t necessary to vindicate the right.

      • Joe says:

        The “direct manner” of Twitter is not like snail mail or even phone calls. The very case was about the importance of online communication. Anyway, how many books can people block from me for it not to count? “No” seems pretty absolute, again realizing there are limits for legitimate reasons. But, “there are so many other options” doesn’t by itself seem very convincing.

        • Joe says:

          To address the website separately …

          That is a useful option, but it is a limited way to petition. There are any number of ways to speak etc. and that is the charm of the First Amendment.

          • Brett Bellmore says:

            Right, and Teigen lost only one of them, after being abusive. So long as she has others, the right hasn’t been denied.

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