The Supreme Court of Israel has enjoined a public official from blocking followers from their social media accounts, even if the account is not operated by a public authority. This decision emerged from a resident of a town in Israel, who was blocked by the mayor’s Twitter account after the resident posted a tweet critical of the mayor. As a result of the block, the resident was unable to view or respond to the mayor’s tweets.
The Supreme Court held that principles of public law apply to the social media accounts of public figures and authorities, including government ministries, offices, and local authorities such as towns. This is particularly true if the account is managed by employees of the public authority or relies on public funding – factors that position it as a service provided to the public by the authority. The Court emphasized that such accounts are akin to public assets intended to serve the broader public, not just the personal interests of those in control.
The distinction between the public and private nature of a public official’s account becomes significant when the account is not funded by public resources. The Supreme Court, considering several factors indicating the hybrid nature of the account, overturned the lower court’s decision:
- The account is public in its nature.
- It features the mayor’s name and official title as mayor, with a profile picture that includes the Israeli flag and a view of the town.
- The account’s content primarily addresses public issues related to the mayor’s role, thus linking his official duties to the persona portrayed by the account.
- It serves as a platform for addressing city-related problems, with users engaging directly with the mayor. Inquiries are received personally, but solutions are provided using city resources, indicating a mix of private and public roles.
- The presence of private posts on the account does not play down its public nature.
The Court held that blocking the user was a violation of his freedom of expression and his right to access information published by the mayor. Although the Court struck down the mayor’s decision to block the user, the Court declined to establish comprehensive rules for the social media accounts of public officials. Due to the issue’s complexity and broad implications, the Court called on the government and legislature to establish regulations in this area.
Click here to read the Israeli Supreme Court’s Decision (in Hebrew).