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West Virginia Politician Sued Over Blocking Constituent On Facebook

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A lawsuit has been initiated by the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV) against a local politician in Jefferson County, accusing him of infringing on a citizen’s First Amendment rights by blocking her on his official Facebook page.

We obtained a copy of the complaint for you here.

The county official in question, Commissioner Steve Stolipher, blocked a constituent, Christy Stadig, from his social media account after she engaged him in a conversation about a recent county audit.

The action of Commissioner Stolipher is viewed as an infraction of the free speech rights of citizens, since the Facebook page of an elected official is deemed a public forum in most cases.

Courts have mostly affirmed that barring constituents from accessing or contributing to such platforms constitutes an illegal curb on free speech, restricting the public’s capacity to interact with their representatives on issues of community concern.

ACLU-WV Legal Director, Aubrey Sparks, states that critiquing public figures is a fundamental aspect of the First Amendment. She points out the existence of federal court decisions binding West Virginia, which declare social media platforms of public officials as public forums. Sparks anticipates a similar declaration from the state court.

Related: First Amendment Claims Over Politicians Blocking Citizens On Social Media Are Getting Murky

The incident with Commissioner Stolipher came to light in May 2022 when he dismissed Stadig’s request to unblock her at a Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee meeting. She had earlier found out she was blocked following a conversation regarding a county audit.

Sparks acknowledges that unjustifiable blocking by public Facebook pages is one of the most frequent grievances reported to her department.

In the wake of an era where politicians and public agencies increasingly employ social media to propagate their agendas, Sparks highlights the escalating issue of unlawful blocking. She affirms, “If a politician’s skin is too thin to withstand questions from the people they represent, then they maintain the right to simply stay off of social media.”

Stadig, the plaintiff in this lawsuit, emphasizes her objective is to uphold the constitutional rights of ordinary citizens. She argues that all restrictions imposed on free speech by government officials, no matter their stature, warrant scrutiny, and citizens have the means to stand up for their rights.

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