An elected Georgia energy regulator blocked them; now she is complaining

Mary Landers, The Stream

Patty Durand enjoys a good debate. The consumer energy advocate expected to have plenty of them after announcing her candidacy for a seat on the Georgia Public Service Commission in 2021, running against Tim Echols. But in July, Echols cut her off from what the Supreme Court described as “modern public space” by banning her from his Twitter and Facebook accounts.

She is now suing him for violating her First Amendment rights.

A complaint filed Tuesday in federal district court in Atlanta describes how Echols blocked her from his Twitter feed and Facebook page in July after she criticized Echols’ failed attempt, one of about a dozen changes to Georgia’s long-term plan Power had tweeted goodbye.

Durand viewed Echols’ efforts as more of an attempt to placate voters in an election year than a genuine attempt to protect taxpayers.

“I said it was lame, and if Echols wanted to get a motion through, he would have used his colleagues to do it in advance,” she said in a phone interview.

The censorship of Durand and others (the Atlanta-area resident Robert Searfoss is also mentioned in the lawsuit as having been blocked by Echols) for their criticism of Echols’ political positions violates the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment, the lawsuit alleges.

Echols and Durand were opponents in the tumultuous race for District 2 civil service commissioner previously scheduled for November’s general election. Text messages revealed that Echols appeared to be involved in an attempt to have Durand removed from her district, but she prevailed in court to remain a candidate. Then, in August, a voting rights case postponed that election along with the District 3 race. The Georgia General Assembly is expected to consider the voting rights issue and reschedule the races at the upcoming session. Both Echols and Durand say they will run again for seats on the body that sets tariffs for electricity, natural gas and telecom services.

The current Emailed Echols asking why he blocked Durand on Twitter.

“I typically block anyone who uses profanity or posts explicit messages on their feed,” Echols wrote.

Echols provided no examples of Durand using profanity of explicit messages. Instead he suggested The current search her.

“I’m meeting with attorneys today to discuss this, but I’ll leave you to check Patty’s feed for profanity,” he wrote. “Be sure to click the ‘Tweets and Replies’ tab to see everything.”

A search of Durand’s more than 4,500 tweets turned up no profanity aimed at Echols. She used the word “damn” in two tweets and “s**t” in two tweets. last in May as a synonym for “Stuff.

A search of Echols’ feed revealed that he warmly responded to at least two tweets posted by other accounts using the same expletives.

He suggested that blocking Durand did not violate their First Amendment rights.

“However, blocking doesn’t actually limit anyone’s ability to voice their opinions — only their ability to hear mine,” Echols wrote.

Courts have disagreed in similar cases where a government official uses a social media account for government business. In 2018, a federal judge ruled that President Donald Trump’s practice of banning critics from his Twitter account violated the First Amendment.

“We have filed briefs in cases involving elected officials blocking people, arguing that members of the public, regardless of their point of view, have a First Amendment right to receive and to see those officials’ social media posts comment,” Karen Gullo, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in an email. “In other words, the public has a right to access official communications on social media. Even the nominally private accounts of government officials can actually be used for official purposes – in which case it would be against the First Amendment for those accounts to block followers based on their views.”

Echols tweets an average of almost 10 times a day. He joined Twitter in 2008 and has since posted more than 47,000 times. Before blocking Durand, he boasted to her via Twitter that he works in a way that voters can easily follow — via Twitter.

“I don’t know of any official in GA who is more transparent than I am,” he tweeted. “My Twitter feed is the diary where you can see everything I’ve done and said.”

With that journal now sealed to Durand, she can no longer post replies to Echols’ feed, search Echols’ tweets, send him direct messages on Twitter, or view his followers, likes, or lists on the platform.

Unlike Durand, about 13,300 Twitter users who “follow” Echols on Twitter receive updates or notifications when he creates a new post or retweets his own or another account’s tweets.

Echols has also blocked Durand on his Facebook page, where he has nearly 5,000 followers.

Durand is asking the court to force Echols to stop the practice of blocking for point of view and unblock them on both Twitter and Facebook.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership The current.