Federal Judge Rules Trump Can't Block Twitter Critics

Phillip Cunningham
May 25, 2018

US President Donald Trump may not "block" Twitter users from viewing his online profile due to their political beliefs, a judge in NY has ruled.

A federal judge in NY ruled Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump may not legally block Twitter users because doing so violates their rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

On Wednesday, a judge in NY described the president's Twitter account as a public forum, and said blocking Twitter users for their views violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution. "The answer to both questions is no".

The department said it disagrees with the court decision and is considering its next steps.

"Clock's ticking", wrote Jameel Jaffer, director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which argued the case for the blocked account holders.

She said Trump could "mute" users, meaning he would not see their tweets while they could still respond to his, without violating their free speech rights. With over 50 million followers, Trump is the world's most followed world leader. Muted users could still appear for others to see under Trump's tweets, however.

"Under Buchwald's ruling, Twitter remains free to block users from its platform, on its own terms, without running afoul of the First Amendment".

In the original suit, the group of blocked users describe Mr. Trump's frequent use of Twitter as "a kind of digital town hall in which the president and his aides use the tweet function to communicate news and information to the public".

"We receive reports about how governmental officials manipulate social media comments to exclude opposing views to create the impression that hotly contested policies are not contested at all", EFF said on Twitter after the case was filed.

Trump was a prolific tweeter from his @RealDonaldTrump account even before being elected in 2016 and has since made it an integral and controversial part of his presidency.

Dissenting view: National Review's David French argues against the ruling, writing that because "Donald Trump's Twitter feed isn't a government-controlled forum", the First Amendment protections for public forums shouldn't apply.

The judge said Trump couldn't suppress such responses. "Trump's personal Twitter account has become a public forum and this court concluded that he can not block those who disagree with him and only allow those who agree with him". "If all goes well, Hollywood will immortalize him as an evildoer who got his comeuppance". As such, if he blocks people and thereby prevents them from seeing his messages, he is breaking the First Amendment.

The government did not dispute that Mr. Trump blocked people because of those kinds of antagonistic tweets.

"Muting equally vindicates the president's right to ignore certain speakers and to selectively amplify the voices of certain others but - unlike blocking - does so without restricting the right of the ignored to speak", Buchwald said.

It's not clear, as of this writing, how many Twitter users Trump has blocked - it could be a few dozen, it could be thousands.

And while there is an unnerving number of references to legal battles that Richard Nixon fought while president, there is a much larger precedent in play: whether any public official can block citizens on social media.

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