Rantz: Online tantrum by Seattle School Board’s Chandra Hampson possibly illegal

Apr 11, 2021, 6:12 PM | Updated: Apr 12, 2021, 5:20 am
Chandra Hampson...
Seattle School Board president Chandra Hampson.

Embattled Seattle School Board President Chandra Hampson deleted critical comments from her Facebook page. Her online tantrum may have broken the law.

Hampson is facing fierce criticism for fighting to keep dangerous and growing homeless encampments on school property. At Meany Middle School on Capitol Hill, 40-50 tents surround the attached Miller Park.

Hampson and board colleague Zachary DeWolf worked to keep the city from clearing the encampment. They claim sweeps set a bad example for kids. Hampson released a joint statement with another board member demanding “sweeps NEVER be performed on school grounds, adjacent or elsewhere in this City.”

Thanks to Hampson and her colleagues, some kids are forced to walk through the encampment to get to the school, avoiding needles, trash, and potentially dangerous homeless residents just to get to class. Some parents are keeping their children in remote learning until the encampment is removed.

People were not happy with Hampson’s position. They posted critical comments on her school board director Facebook page. She was caught deleting some posts, even admitting to it. This may have been illegal.

Hampson’s Facebook tantrum

Hampson didn’t take kindly to the criticism. This is a common side effect to living in Seattle’s echo chamber where your radical views are seldom challenged. She started deleting critical comments and was almost immediately called out.

One user noted that “by constantly deleting the incredible amount of critical comments on what you’re doing to these kids, you’re just reaffirming the image that you have created for yourself — a woke activist who cares more about her social justice cause and drug addicts than the kids entrusted in her care.”

When a user told Hampson that deleting comments was likely illegal, Hampson pushed back saying the user was “incorrect because this isn’t an official page.” In that same comment thread Hampson said, according to a screenshot, “This is my personal site where I engage about my positions.”

Hampson eventually pulled the entire page down, though it’s unclear if she deleted it or just took it offline temporarily.

Was it a public forum?

Whether or not Hampson believes her page is “personal” doesn’t matter according to former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna. It’s about whether or not the public official uses the page as public forum.

“It doesn’t matter that the account is personal and it doesn’t matter that it exists on a privately owned platform like Facebook, Twitter, and the rest,” McKenna told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “What matters is when and whether an elected official has created a public forum by intentionally opening their social media account for public discussion. That’s the test the court is going to apply.”

Hampson has a personal Facebook page. It remains online.

This page was titled “Director Chandra Hampson,” she listed it under the category “Politician,” and she used it to post official school board business, including her statement demanding an end to sweeps. Hampson turned it into a public forum. She just didn’t like what the public had to say.

“I think that using the account in that way would likely be viewed as creating a public forum,” McKenna concluded.

Hampson whines about criticism

Hampson complained that she was “deleting trolls and unproductive vitriol” because, she argued, “that’s what happens when conservative media trolls pick up a story like this.”

I certainly hope she wasn’t talking about me as I’m sensitive. To make me feel better, I hope you’ll watch and share my discussions of this issue from Tucker Carlson Tonight and the Faulkner Focus on FOX News.

Does it matter that Hampson viewed the criticism as “unproductive”? No.

“The way that the courts are going to analyze the First Amendment claim concerning a social media account is how does the owner of the account use it?” McKenna said. “Do they use it to make official pronouncements? Do they use it to reply to other people’s messages? To republish other people’s messages about things they have posted regarding their official role and the agency they work for? If so, there’s a very good argument that that page, that social media account has become a public forum and therefore you cannot, as the owner of that forum, of that page, who is a public official or any government official, elected or not, to censor some of the views that are that are posted there. You’re not allowed to block or delete messages others opposed to because that infringes their First Amendment rights in that public forum.”

Hampson complained that some people commenting are from out of state. Does that matter? McKenna says, “No, not at all.”

“All that matters is that they have First Amendment rights and they’re exercising those by engaging in a dialogue not just with the school board member in this case, but also with each other,” McKenna says.

Hampson weighs in (sorta)

I asked Hampson why she thought she could legally delete the comments on her Facebook page. I also asked if she planned to put the page back up.

Hampson didn’t respond with words initially. She sent me a link to a CNN article about a 2nd Circuit case she probably didn’t read or understand. Had she read it, she would realize the judges ruled against the argument she made.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued then-President Donald Trump for blocking individuals from his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account. They argued it violated their First Amendment rights. The 2nd Circuit Court agreed, upholding a lower court ruling, because Trump used the account as a public forum.

“These tweets are published by a public official clothed with the authority of the state using social media as a tool of governance and as an official channel of communication on an interactive public platform,” Judge Barrington Parker wrote. “Excluding people from an otherwise public forum such as this by blocking those who express views critical of a public official is, we concluded, unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”

What about Hampson’s article?

Hampson’s article link says the Supreme Court “wiped away” that ruling by dismissing the case. Indeed, they did. Trump is no longer in office and the account no longer exists.

But does this change whether or not Hampson or any public official can return to censoring opinions on their pages? Again McKenna says, “No, not at all.”

“[This] is not the only federal case out there,” McKenna said. “There are a number of federal cases where judges and courts have held that public officials who use their social media accounts for public business and invite public discourse on them have turned them into public forums. So the 2nd Circuit case is not the only case out there, it’s not the only authority.”

Hampson could face legal consequences

Hampson could face legal repercussions if someone she censored decided to sue.

“If you sue a politician for violating your First Amendment rights, you can bring a section 1983 claim, which is a civil rights claim, assuming that you can convince the court that the politician was acting under the color of state law,” McKenna said. “You might at least get your attorney’s fees back, which could be substantial.”

Hampson blocked me on Twitter after I posted to my work criticizing her. Hampson uses Twitter as a public forum.

“So my advice to elected officials is if you’re going to use your personal social media accounts to talk about the work you do as an elected official, don’t block people. Don’t delete their comments, don’t discriminate against their viewpoints by censoring them.”

Beyond sending me a CNN article on a case she likely did not read or understand, Hampson declined comment.

Did you like this opinion piece? Then listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz  on  Twitter,  Instagram, and Parler and like me on Facebook

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Rantz: Online tantrum by Seattle School Board’s Chandra Hampson possibly illegal