Alert – New Legal Ruling Changes How Elected Officials Use Social Media

Social media has proven since its infancy to be a powerful tool, especially now for politicians—both elected officials and candidates alike. It allows politicians to reach out directly to the public, without the filter of traditional media, to inform and to persuade, while simultaneously creating an avenue for their constituents and voters to speak directly back to them.

However, social media has also amplified the risks that politicians are subjected to and a recent judicial ruling against an elected official in Chicago reminded us of that. We asked our friend and attorney, Robert Windon (Windon Strategies), to review that ruling and help us remind candidates and elected officials how to avoid getting in hot water legally on social media.

1. Your Official Social Media Profile is Considered a Public Space

Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman, a federal judge in Illinois, recently ruled that elected officials may not delete or hide comments from their constituents on official social media pages.

This came to light recently as Chicago Alderman Jim Gardiner blocked 6 critics on his official Facebook page in 2021. The judge ruled the “content-based and speaker-based restrictions” were a violation of the First Amendment and Gardiner did not have the power to moderate his official page by deleting comments he considered harassing or even threatening by hiding or deleting them, nor could he block certain users.

Key Takeaway: Treat your official social media accounts like a public town hall—the content, information, and resources you share must be available to all, and they are allowed to respond as they would in any public forum.

2. You Cannot Use Your Official Social Media Accounts for Campaign Activities

Official government social media accounts are to be used strictly for communications from and for the office you hold. We often see violations of the Hatch Act, which was designed to ensure the federal government was not involving itself in election or acting partisan, when an elected official campaigns from their official account. These rules apply on all levels, including the state and local levels.

Key Takeaway: All fundraising, campaigning, and election information must be done on your personal or campaign social media accounts; you can only post the work you’ve done for your elected constituents and provide resources on your official social media pages.

We’re heading into campaign season which is when candidates are most susceptible to making costly mistakes on their social media pages.

If you have questions about what can and can’t be posted, or other rules about social media, Cor’s team can help. Contact us anytime!

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