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Gosar suit shines light on online contact between politicians, public

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PHOENIX — A lawsuit filed by an Arizona woman after U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar blocked her on Facebook has shined a light on the relationship between politicians, their constituents and social media.

J’aime Morgaine filed the suit against Gosar months ago when she was blocked from his Facebook page. Though her access was reinstated Wednesday, she said she had no plans to drop the suit because she wants to preserve others’ First Amendment rights.

“The lawsuit wasn’t just about trying to get unblocked, not for me,” she said. “It doesn’t change the fact that what he was doing, in blocking me and blocking other people, it was unconstitutional.”

Morgaine also said she wanted to carry on with the suit because Gosar was not the only politician limiting access to social media feeds. Some activists have even launched a lawsuit against President Donald Trump for blocking people on Twitter after White House officials stated his account would be used in an official capacity.

“Because these are official social media accounts where they’re running government business, it is a significant issue when those voices of accountability, voices of dissent are being blocked,” she said.

There is not a lot of legal precedent for Morgaine’s case, but KTAR News legal analyst Monica Lindstrom said she could have a leg to stand on, especially if a judge found public meeting laws apply to social media feeds.

“The courts will have to weigh in on the use of public media accounts by elected officials and whether it’s considered personal or official,” Lindstrom said, adding that if the account is official, the judge would have to determine what elected leaders “…  have to do with that account so as not to violate people’s rights.”

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., recently ruled that a local official’s Facebook account was a public forum under the First Amendment. Should an Arizona judge find the same, Gosar could be forced to unblock everyone unless they pose some kind of security concern.

“If it’s an official account, there’s the question of whether that official can really block anybody from seeing or being part of that,” Lindstrom said.

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