Colorado statute allows legislators to prevent access to their private social media accounts 2023

Just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court indicated it would explore whether politicians may prohibit social media users from their private accounts, Colorado lawmakers sent a measure to the governor.

The bipartisan bill Colorado’s Democrat-controlled Legislature passed Thursday lets lawmakers block someone for any reason. Gov. Jared Polis’ @GovofCO Twitter account is exempt.

As politicians use social media to argue in 280-character Tweets, praise their accomplishments, vent their frustrations, and announce official business, the idea has sparked a national debate.

That blurry border has spawned many lawsuits, including one against former President Donald Trump

The measure defines public and private accounts: a politician’s social media page is public if it’s necessary for the position or utilizes taxpayer cash, maintained by an official’s staff. Trump and Biden both use @WhiteHouse, a public account.

The law defines a private account, which might ban others, as a page not backed by government resources or essential for the position. @realDonaldTrump retained it after leaving office.

The bill’s bipartisan backers liken it to a town hall, where two constituents who yelled at each other or harassed or intimidated witnesses would be expelled.

“(It’s having) the same treatment from the physical world to the social media world,” said Republican Rep. Matt Soper, one of the bill’s proponents. Soper said it looks to be the first law of its sort in the country and is a start toward tackling “the wild, wild West of our generation.”

The measure allows politicians to exclude users “for any reason,” which critics say restricts public access to their representatives and hinders discussion.

In a committee hearing on the bill, ACLU of Colorado policy counsel Catherine Ordoñez said, “The U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that social media is an instrument for ‘speaking and listening in the modern public square’ and that it affords ‘perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard.

“Legislators following the text of this bill will regularly violate the First Amendment rights of individuals interacting with their social media accounts,” warned Ordoñez.

Trump’s @realDonaldTrump account and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene have been sued for barring Twitter users. In 2021, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case after a lower court determined that Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking critics to silence them.

Commonly, Greene resolved her case. Two comparable claims in Colorado were resolved, leaving the matter without legal precedent.

The Colorado measure is based on a 2022 federal court case that sided with the city manager of Port Huron, Michigan, who was sued for filtering and erasing messages from his public Facebook page. The Supreme Court will hear the case in fall.

The statute determines whether an elected official’s account is private, but it doesn’t cover the content. An elected person might publish about their job, laws they supported or opposed, announcements, and politics on a private page.

“If I’m at a bar and talk to my friend about a bill I’m running… Is my discussion public?”

Herod claimed that the law’s main purpose is to prevent harassers and intimidators from stifling good-faith online discourse.

Tim Regan-Porter, CEO of the Colorado Press Association, countered that what politicians say about their job as elected officials matters to the public and media.

He stated, “It’s not just important what the law says, but what the intent was, why they chose to do it, and what parties might have influenced them,” and social media statements might help explain a choice.

Gov. Jared Polis did not immediately reply to queries on his legislative position.

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