Twitter Users Blocked by Trump Take It To Court, Citing First Amendment
In a letter sent to the President, the Knight First Amendment Institute that focuses on protecting First Amendment rights in the digital age, argued that when Trump blocks people on Twitter, he’s violating their right to free speech. The letter states that the @realdonaldtrump Twitter feed is a “designated public forum,” no different from a city council or school board meeting. The First Amendment bars the government from censoring individuals in such forums, based on their views. Through the letter, the Institute asks Trump to unblock these accounts and stop blocking people in the future. If he doesn’t, the Institute will file a lawsuit, according to Katie Fallow, a senior fellow there.
“This is the bedrock principle,” says Fallow. “If there’s any kind of forum the government is operating for expression, it may not discriminate on the basis of viewpoint.”
The Institute provides evidence indicating the President has done just that. One Twitter user, @AynRandPaulRyan, was blocked after tweeting President Trump.
— Holly O'Reilly (@AynRandPaulRyan) May 28, 2017
Another, @joepabike, found himself blocked after tweeting about the President’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement last week.
— Joe Papp (@joepabike) June 3, 2017
By blocking certain people on Twitter, President Trump has made it impossible for them to speak directly to him. They can’t see his Tweets. He can’t see theirs. And they can’t participate in the reply threads that are open to the general population.
But not all First Amendment scholars are convinced the Institute would have a strong case in court.
“The question of whether the President’s Twitter feed is a public forum is a more complicated question,” says Neil Richards, a professor at Washington University’s Law school, specializing in First Amendment theory. “The law here is famously muddled, because it’s trying to prevent the government from discriminating against people who speak on public streets and parks, but it’s trying to fight the urge to make everything a public forum.”