Chesnorship: Andrew Chesney’s Intolerance of Political Dissent

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In history’s most famous autocracies, censorship never fails to make an appearance. Politicians and other government officials block dissent to tighten their grip on power by drowning out the opposition. Most people turn to Russia and China for textbook examples of government censorship. However, one does not have to look further than Freeport’s own Andrew Chesney to find examples of an elected leader suppressing the voices of his own constituents. A quick scroll through the comment section on Andrew Chesney’s official Facebook page leaves one wondering where the voices of opposition are. 

Locals critical of Andrew Chesney have recently reported being blocked by the elected representative after leaving critical comments or expressing concerns on his Facebook page. One individual said that he turned to Chesney’s Facebook after sending him emails and receiving no responses. After commenting his concerns, the Freeport local found himself blocked. Another respondent expressed that she is “disturbed” by Chesney’s unwillingness to tolerate political dissent. She stated that Chesney “is supposed to be a representative for everyone in the district, not just the people who believe as he does.” A local with multiple Facebook accounts told the Voice of Freeport that Chesney had blocked all of his accounts after leaving comments about Covid, the 2020 presidential election, and Freeport public schools. 

How long has Andrew Chesney been silencing the voices of concerned constituents online? At least two years. Of the eight locals that the Voice of Freeport spoke with, two reported having been blocked since 2020. However, Andrew Chesney is not the only politician in the US censoring dissent on social media. 

Recent court cases around the country have challenged the legality of elected officials blocking individuals on social media. In 2019, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Knight Institute v. Trump that Donald Trump violated the First Amendment when he blocked seven critics from his Twitter account. In another 2019 case, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Davidson v. Randall that a public official’s Facebook page is a “public forum,” meaning that elected representatives cannot block people from sharing their opinions. The Court found that when a public official uses social media to inform the public, gather feedback, and open the space for comment, they violate the First Amendment by blocking critical voices. 

Do these court cases demonstrate that Andrew Chesney is violating the First Amendment? The answer is complicated. 

One could argue that Andrew Chesney’s Facebook is a “public forum” for constituents to share their thoughts and criticisms, meaning that Chesney is in violation of the First Amendment. However, in 2021, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Campbell v. Reisch that a Missouri state representative did not violate the First Amendment when she blocked voters from her Twitter account. The court maintained that the Twitter account was “used overwhelmingly for campaign purposes,” rather than official duties. This means that Chesney could argue his account is reserved for “campaign purposes” and not official government-related work, evidenced by “Republican for State Senate” in his cover photo. However, it has been reported that individuals have even been blocked on Chesney’s “official” Facebook page, a different account where he reports more formal business.

Essentially, if an elected official uses a social media account as part of official duties (informing the citizenry, collecting feedback, encouraging public discussion, and providing services) they are not allowed to block critical voices. However, lawyers and scholars recognize the ambiguity in this language. So, more court cases surrounding the legality of government officials blocking dissent will come.