Atlanta, GA (WGCL) — An Atlanta man who once tried to run for mayor has spent the last year trying to get Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the city of Atlanta to unblock him on Twitter.
“I use social media,” said Alex Barrella, a professional cartoonist. “It’s my main kind of platform because I’m a very online person.”
In 2016, Barrella attempted to run for mayor but said he couldn’t afford the qualification fee. He tried to apply for a pauper’s waiver, but he didn’t get enough signatures.
After Bottoms won the election, Barrella, a self-described left-leaning radical, quickly became one of Bottoms’ worst critics on social media. He often replied to her posts with unflattering remarks, sometimes accusing her of being a “criminal coward,” an “oligarch conservative” or an “election chestress.”
It didn’t take long for his account to get blocked by both Mayor Bottoms’ Twitter account and the city of Atlanta’s account.
Each time he was blocked, Barrella would create a new account, which would, in turn, get blocked. At one point, 28 of his accounts were blocked.
“For the most part, I’m being blocked for pointing out that they can’t block me on Twitter, so it’s kind of a self-feeding cycle,” Barrella said.
Barrella asked the mayor about it in person at a town hall meeting.
“I’d like to know as like public policy why you’re breaking the law by blocking me on Twitter,” said Barrella, holding a microphone.
“Sometimes, when the attacks are of a personal nature, then I choose to block people, and I blocked you,” Bottoms replied, eliciting applause from the audience.
But it turns out, blocking Barrella for his critical comments is a violation of Barrella’s rights, according to Emory University law professor Alexander Volokh.
“It’s a tough world out there,” Volokh said, “and the First Amendment means that especially elected officials just have to take it.”
Volokh pointed to a federal appeals court which recently ruled that President Donald Trump can’t block people on social media purely because of political disagreements. He said the same holds true for any elected official or government entity.
“Blocking someone on Twitter also prevents them from seeing your things and prevents them from liking and prevents them from re-tweeting,” said Volokh, “so really the important thing is that blocking someone on Twitter is an imposition on them. It violates their rights.”
Bottoms later acknowledged in radio interview that she’d been made aware of the problem.
“I went back in and tried to unblock some people, and actually, I don’t know how to do it. I’m not savvy,” Bottoms told Georgia Public Broadcasting. “I’m sure it’s something that is really simple. I just have to get someone to show me.”
Since that interview, Bottoms and her staff apparently figured out how to unblock accounts. Barrella said none of his Twitter accounts are blocked anymore.
CBS46 News reached out to the mayor’s office for a statement. A spokesman replied simply, “He is not blocked.”
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