U.S. court bars Donald Trump from blocking users on Twitter

25 May, 2018, 11:26 | Author: Keith Rowe
  • A federal judge in New York ruled Wednesday that President Trump is in violation of the Constitution when he blocks users on Twitter

District judge Naomi Buchwald ruled [PDF] that Trump's blocking of critics from his Twitter account @realDonaldTrump is illegal since it is "properly characterized as a designated public forum" given his public position.

Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of the US District Court for the Southern District of NY sided with the argument made by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University that the president's Twitter feed constitutes a "designated public forum", and that Trump therefore can't block users based on their political views.

"The US District Judge also said that the viewpoint-based isolation of the individual plaintiffs from that assigned public hearing is ordered by the First Amendment and can not be supported by the President's personal First Amendment interests. The answer to both questions is no", she concluded.

The seven users had each tweeted a message critical of the president before they were blocked. But if Trump muted an account, he would not see that user's tweets but the user could still see and respond to his.

The president uses his account, which has 37,600 tweets and 52.2 million followers, to "take measures that can only be taken by the president as president", the ruling reads.

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

Even if it's argued that the ruling is narrow and only meant to apply to public figures (maybe even arguing that it applies only to the US president), that still has implications for Twitter's enforcement policy.

The White House has not commented on the case, and the Justice Department is reviewing its options, which could include an appeal.

While she said the President should "remedy the blocking", Judge Buchwald stopped short of directly ordering Mr Trump to unblock users. The Justice Department, which defended Mr. Trump in the case, said it disagreed with the decision and was considering its next steps. "If that's the case, the government doesn't get to pick and choose who is allowed in".

Buchwald also said she recognized the impact on the individuals by Trump's action was not "of the highest magnitude". In July, a federal court in Virginia said the chair of a county board of supervisors had violated the First Amendment rights of a constituent by blocking him from the county's Facebook page.

It is not clear how many people Mr. Trump has blocked, but online tallies list some of the names: author Stephen King, anti-Trump activist Holly Figueroa O'Reilly and Daily Kos editor Rebecca Pilar Buckwalter Poza, who was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Just a few weeks prior, Trump had sent the infamous "covfefe" tweet, which he deleted six hours after posting.

The judge acknowledged that even though the president has certain free speech rights, he can not violate the rights of other Twitter users.

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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