Brendan Orsinger does not like Washington, D.C.’s police chief. He has made his views clear on Twitter, writing “Peter Newsham is a liability to this city,” and calling officers “a bunch of violent bullies.” Newsham, citing tweets he calls “cruel and nasty” — and sometimes inaccurate — blocked his 36-year-old social-media antagonist, and at least one other activist on Twitter. They can no longer follow @ChiefNewsham or see the chief’s tweets, the Washington Post reports. Advocates of open government argue that Newsham, along with other elected and appointed public officials across the U.S. who have weeded out critics on social media, are running afoul of the First Amendment. Hitting Twitter’s “block” key, they argue, is akin to government cracking down on speakers in what has become the nation’s new town square.
The District’s police chief has joined the legal debate over the intersection of social media, transparent government and communicating with the public. The Supreme Court could end up deciding whether the First Amendment applies to public forums run by government officials on the Internet. The American Civil Liberties Union took Maryland’s governor to court over the issue, and another group is suing President Trump. In Virginia, a federal judge ruled that the chairman of the Board of Supervisors in Loudoun County, Va., violated the U.S. Constitution by blocking a critical Facebook follower for 12 hours. That decision is being appealed. Newsham set up his @ChiefNewsham Twitter account in 2016 and had posted nearly 400 times as of Friday . He has a modest 1,294 followers.. The account is separate from the main police Twitter account, @DCPoliceDept, which has more than 200,000 followers and sends alerts on shootings, robberies, carjackings, missing persons, as well videos of crime suspects who are being sought. No one has been blocked from that account.