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Assistant City Attorney Warns Councilmembers About Pitfalls of Using Their Personal Social Media Accounts for City Business

Published on Wednesday, September 21, 2022 | 5:39 am

The Pasadena City Attorney’s Office reminded members of the City Council they must observe First Amendment-related court rulings if they operate social media accounts as public officials, or they may face violations.

During Monday’s Council meeting, Chief Assistant City Attorney Javan Rad cited federal appellate court decisions related to public officials’ use of social media pages. 

Among the decisions Rad cited was the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision which ruled that then-President Donald Trump could not block critics from his Twitter account, calling it “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”

Rad also cited was the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling on two Poway Unified School District trustees’ blocking of parents on the social media pages they were using to promote Poway Unified-related information.

In that decision, the Ninth Circuit found that the Trustees acted under the color of law when they identified themselves on their social media accounts as “government officials,” and displayed their official titles but they violated the parents’ First Amendment rights by blocking them from reacting and commenting.

Rad reminded members of the Council that if they are using their social media page for personal and city business and comments are deleted or users blocked, the Councilmember may face liability under the First Amendment. 

To avoid this, Rad provided options. He said public officials should consider not discussing city business on their personal social media accounts. 

He also said the city departments could ban all comments on social media pages. 

“LA County Public Health Department has limited comments on their twitter page so that is something some agencies are doing,” Rad said. 

Another option, Rad said, is to create two separate accounts, one for their personal business and one for city business.

During the meeting, City Attorney Michele Bagneris agreed to provide training on best practices on social media use for elected officials this year, upon request of Councilmember Felicia Williams. 

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