Social media is a powerful tool, especially for politicians. It gives them a direct link to their constituents, without the need to hold news conferences or issue formal statements. It also allows the constituents to express their views and provides direct access to their elected official.
But with that direct access can come unwanted criticism or inappropriate comments. Politicians can respond to those commenters by blocking their access to the official’s page, preventing the users from viewing new posts or commenting on issues.
Last month, a federal judge ruled President Trump could not block Twitter users from his account. The court said blocking followers can be considered a violation of a person’s first amendment rights.
NBC7 Investigates found a quarter of San Diego County’s elected officials have blocked accounts on Facebook and Twitter.
To see what we found out, look below or click here.
NOTE: Elected officials in San Diego County who are not included in the visualization above released records showing no users were blocked on their Facebook or Twitter accounts.
To obtain these records, our team filed over 100 requests under the California Public Records Act with every city, county and state representative in San Diego County, asking for records that show the accounts an official has blocked on their Facebook and Twitter account.
Some cities questioned whether the public has the right to see these records but eventually every agency agreed to release the records, in some cases “voluntarily”. The city of El Cajon was the only city not to release records for all but one of their elected officials. A Staff Attorney for the city told us the records we requested are still being compiled.
“I've only a blocked a very small number of people in all those years,” National City Mayor Ron Morrison told us. “And it was for people that just go entirely over the top.”
According to the records we received from National City, Morrison blocked 21 accounts on his Facebook page but he said he only blocked accounts that were disruptive and impeding others from commenting on his posts.
“People should have a level discretion that you can't just say anything on their Facebook,” Morrison said.
One individual blocked by Morrison is now suing him on grounds that Morrison violated his free speech.
Morrison could not comment on the lawsuit filed, as he said he had not been served yet and hadn’t read what was filed.
Attorney Cory Briggs represents the man who was blocked by Morrison.
“Politicians come up with excuses for not having to listen to people who disagree with them,” Briggs said. “And that's one of the problems our country faces right now is you can't get adults to sit down and talk civilly when they disagree.”
NBC 7 Investigates found National City Vice Mayor Albert Mendivil blocked the most accounts of any politician we reviewed, 69 profiles on Facebook.
Escondido Mayor Sam Abed blocked the San Diego ACLU's Twitter account. Abed did not return our request for comment.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas had blocked an employee of the ACLU. This was not correct. The confusion came from the spelling of a user's name on Salas' blocked list. Salas' office did not initially return our request for comment but on Thursday, June 7, Salas' Chief of Staff Francisco Estrada told us, "Mayor Mary Casillas Salas is a strong supporter of civil rights and of the ACLU. In fact, we have worked with the ACLU to re-establish the Chula Vista Human Relations Commission, establish Chula Vista as a Welcoming City and on statewide legislation. She has never blocked the ACLU nor any of its employees. She has blocked a number of individuals on Facebook that have a tendency to send chain letters, posts or gifs."
Michael Gerhardt, a Constitutional Scholar with the National Constitution Center said some courts have ruled if you are an elected official, you cannot block people on social media just because they have opposing views.
“It’s obviously disadvantaging somebody because of their political viewpoint and that seems to be pretty much the definition of what we call viewpoint discrimination,” Gerhardt said.
After NBC7 Investigates requested these records, all of the San Diego County Supervisors, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and other city officials told us they reversed their decision and unblocked all of their blocked social media followers.
Gerhardt said in order for there to be an across the board rule against banning social media accounts, the matter will have to be discussed at the Supreme Court level.
“We still have a lot to work out in terms of what the first amendment applies to and perhaps what the first amendment doesn’t apply to,” Gerhardt said. “There’s a question about to what extent the first amendment protects access to certain things.”
Politicians are also blocking other politicians in San Diego County. Escondido City Councilmember Michael Morasco blocked his fellow councilmember Olga Diaz on Facebook.
La Mesa Vice Mayor Kristine Alessio blocked El Cajon Councilmember Ben Kalasho on Twitter.