Apr 25, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: House members warned not to block online critics

Illustration of the Capitol Building with thumbs down clouds floating behind it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The House of Representatives' top lawyer is warning members that they "should rarely, if ever" block accounts on social media, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The new guidance comes in response to a pair of recent Supreme Court rulings that laid out circumstances in which it is unconstitutional for public officials to block their social media detractors.

Driving the news: In an email to congressional offices obtained by Axios, House general counsel Matthew Berry said his office is updating its guidance around the moderation of official social media accounts.

  • "When a government official creates a forum on social media that allows for the public to comment, it can create significant First Amendment issues if a user is blocked or comments are deleted or hidden," Berry wrote.
  • He warned there "is a risk of lawsuits for blocking and moderating on official social media accounts."

Zoom in: Berry offered four key takeaways from the new guidance.

  • Congressional accounts should post clear guidance on their comment moderation policies.
  • The accounts should "never block users or moderate comments based on viewpoint."
  • Social media platforms' built-in moderation tools may be used "in an appropriate manner," as opposed to staffers moderating comments manually.
  • And finally, he wrote, "blocking accounts creates substantial legal risk and should rarely, if ever, occur."

Zoom out: The new guidance comes as Congress, often slower to catch up to technological advancement than other sectors, is trying to navigate a rapidly developing technological environment.

  • The House's chief administrative officer, for instance, has set restrictions on staffers' use of several prominent AI tools such as Microsoft Copilot and ChatGPT.
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