New Ordinance Would Bar Hoboken Officials from Blocking Constituents on Social Media


Professor Abner Greene, a First Amendment expert, shares his thoughts on the rule of law and social media with The Jersey Journal.

Several Hoboken city council members want to create a new ground rule for how to be a public official in their city: You can’t block your constituents on social media.
The ordinance, up for first reading Wednesday, would establish an up to $500 fine for such conduct and is intended to codify a First Amendment issue that has prevailed in court in recent years, one sponsor said.
It’s legislation in the public interest, said Councilman Phil Cohen, who said he came up with the ordinance.
“The social media communication of elected officials shouldn’t be the Wild West,” Cohen said. “We should have a clear set of rules of what’s OK and what isn’t, and this ordinance is going to make that clear.”
At the core is freedom of speech, said Abner Greene, a First Amendment expert and the Leonard F. Manning professor at Fordham Law School.
In 2019, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that multiple instances in which Trump blocked Twitter users violated the First Amendment because Twitter can be considered a public forum, just like a public outdoor space where people speak their minds.
“The key moment in the 2nd Circuit decision is when they say well the president’s Twitter account isn’t a park or a street exactly, but it is still a public forum if he is using it to communicate about government business,” Greene said.
Inscribing a similar rule into local law should be “perfectly fine,” he added, if it will uphold the same First Amendment principle.

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