Kentucky Republican Representative Thomas Massie was informed he can't legally block his critics on Twitter after he angered many when he tweeted a family photo in which he and six family members each brandished a military-style weapon in front of a Christmas tree.
On Tuesday, the Knight First Amendment Institute, an organization that aims to address violations of freedom of speech and the press in the digital age, sent a letter to Massie explaining he can't legally block anyone who finds his tweet objectionable.
The letter read, in part:
“Multiple courts have held that public officials’ social media accounts constitute public forums when they are used in the way that you use the @RepThomasMassie account, and they have made clear that public officials violate the First Amendment when they block users from these fora on the basis of viewpoint."
The organization also called out Massie on Twitter after Mike Masnick, the editor ofTechDirt, noted Massie's decision to block him is a First Amendment violation.
In 2019, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled online pages used by public figures to connect with their constituents are public forums, which means an official cannot block people from them because of the opinions they hold.
Last year, Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn also received a letter from the Knight First Amendment Institute after he blocked Twitter users who criticized his COVID-19 response. New York Represenative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, also apologized after she blocked a Twitter user who criticized her policies.
Others soon pointed out they've also been blocked by Massie amid the controversy and joined in criticizing him and Twitter for not deleting the image.
Massie's tweet came just days after a mass shooting occurred at Oxford High School in Oxford Township, Michigan.
Last week, James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of school shooter Ethan Crumbley, were arrested following an intense manhunt and charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter.
The Crumbleys had purchased the handgun used in the shooting as a Christmas gift for their son on Black Friday and stored it improperly.
The Crumbleys were called to the school shortly before the shooting occurred to discuss a violent drawing made by their son and did not inform the school they had recently purchased him a gun.
The shooting has once again sparked a national debate on gun control and the merits of the Second Amendment. The school district, Oxford Community Schools, has confirmed it will conduct an investigation of the incident.
However, the controversy surrounding Massie's tweet did not stop Republican Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado from responding to Massie's photo with a picture of her four equally armed children.
"The Boeberts have your six," Boebert tweeted to Massie, using a military saying that means, "I've got your back" even though neither politician has military experience.