Trump can't block his critics on Twitter, judge rules

Georgia Reed
May 25, 2018

His constant interference in the Russian Federation investigation that is looking into collusion with foreign powers? "The ruling pointedly does not rule on Twitter as a whole, nor even the entirety of Trump's Twitter account", Fung writes.

A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that President Donald Trump's practice of blocking critics on Twitter is unconstitutional, siding with the Columbia's Knight First Amendment Institute in its lawsuit against Trump and one of his aides. The court held that the official's Facebook page constituted a public forum and she had therefore violated the First Amendment when she blocked a critical constituent from commenting on it.

Trump is free to use his Twitter account in whatever ridiculous and absurd way he chooses, no matter how badly it backfires on him or how many times courts use his tweets against him.

In a statement following the ruling, Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute, said, "The First Amendment prohibits government officials from suppressing speech on the basis of viewpoint".

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group which backed the lawsuit, said the case is part of a "broader issue" on how public officials use social media.

While it may seem like a trivial matter, the judge goes to some lengths to explain her reasoning.

A USA court has ruled the country's controversial president can not block someone on Twitter "in response to the political views that person has expressed". "The answer to both questions is no", she concluded.

"The President, like other public officials, routinely engages in conduct that is not state action, whether that might be giving a toast at a wedding or giving a speech at a fundraiser", the Justice Department wrote in a brief, according to The Washington Post.

The account has 52.2 million followers and Trump uses it for a variety of policy announcements.

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The case could affect other social media interactions involving public officials. Hence the judgment was welcomed by all the seven petitioners. You couldn't arrest someone for trespass in a public park because it used to be a restricted military base.

The lawsuit contended that because Trump uses Twitter for a variety of policy announcements, the account is "a designated public forum" that can not exclude people due to their political views.

However, if you click on a Donald Trump tweet, you'll see a long list of replies to that tweet listed underneath.

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.

On Wednesday the judge agreed with their argument that the social media platform qualifies as a "designated public forum" granted to all USA citizens.

In other words, Trump can continue to tweet unhindered, regardless of whatever happens in comment threads to previous tweets.

Blocking also prevents people from replying to or quoting what was said.

But being able to comment on a tweet requires following the president - and blocking someone means he or she can not jump in with their thoughts. And the price of that appears to be not being able to stop people from responding.

The Justice Department has 60 days to appeal the ruling.

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