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Justice Dept. Appeals Ruling that Trump Can't Block Twitter Users

by Countable | 7.31.17

UPDATE - June 5, 2018

  • The Justice Department is appealing a ruling made last month that the president can't block critics of his Twitter account.

  • U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote in her May 23 ruling that blocking online critics is unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment.

  • Three DoJ officials filed notice of their appeal on Monday to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on behalf of President Donald Trump and Dan Scavino, the White House social media director.

Countable's original story appears below.

Trump Can't Block Users on Twitter, Judge Rules

UPDATE - May 24, 2018: A federal judge has ruled that President Donald Trump and his aides cannot block critics from @realDonaldTrump. Twitter users can’t see or respond to tweets from the accounts that block them.

  • U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote in her ruling that blocking online critics is unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment:

"While we must recognize, and are sensitive to, the President’s personal First Amendment rights, he cannot exercise those rights in a way that infringes the corresponding First Amendment rights of those who have criticized him," Buchwald wrote.

Countable's original story appears below.


Trump Sued For Blocking Americans on Twitter

Do you have a Constitutional right to follow @realDonaldTrump on Twitter?

That’s the question at the center of a lawsuit in which seven Twitter users are suing the President for blocking them on the social media platform. Twitter users can’t see or respond to tweets from the accounts that block them.

The lawsuit, filed by the Knights First Amendment Institute, claims it’s unconstitutional for President Trump to block people on Twitter. The organization, based out of Columbia University, argues that Trump’s Twitter feed is a public forum--which government officials can’t bar people from accessing.

From the lawsuit:

"The @realDonaldTrump account is 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, and members of the public use the reply function to respond to the president and his aides and exchange views with one another."

The President, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Trump’s social media director Daniel Scavino are also named in the lawsuit.

The Twitter lawsuit got a boost from another, similar, lawsuit last week. On Tuesday a federal judge in Virginia ruled that a federal official cannot block users on her Facebook page.

That case involved Loudoun County Supervisor Phyllis J. Randall who blocked a constituent from her Facebook page. Randall had referred to the page as her "county Facebook page" and posted "I really want to hear from ANY Loudoun citizen on ANY issues, request, criticism, compliment, or just your thoughts." However, after a citizen posted about alleged corruption, Randall blocked the user from her page. He sued.

U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris ruled that Randall "engaged in viewpoint discrimination," a violation of the First Amendment. A similar argument may be used against Trump.

The seven Twitter users who filed the suit claim their accounts were blocked by Trump, or his aides, after they responded to the President’s tweets with critical comments.

Eugene Gu, one of the plaintiffs, said he was blocked after he tweeted at the President: "Covfefe: the same guy who doesn’t proofread his Twitter handles the nuclear button." This was in response to Trump tweeting, then deleting, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.”

Another plaintiff, comedian Nick Pappas, claims he was blocked after tweeting at the President, in regards to the travel ban, "Trump is right. The government should protect the people. That's why the courts are protecting us from him."

They, and the other five plaintiffs, argue the block is an attempt to "suppress dissent" in a public forum—a direct violation of their right to free speech.

Last week, Trump also blocked model, author Chrissy Teigen, who has over 6 million Twitter followers, but she has not stated whether she intends to sue Trump to unblock her.

All of this is compounded by the ever-growing importance of @realDonaldTrump. When White House press briefings conflicted with the President’s tweets, Spicer claimed the 140-characters coming from Trump were "official statements." And in June, there was a House proposal to record all the President’s tweets. The bill, known as The COVFEFE Act, would ensure the tweets from @realDonaldTrump are preserved under the Presidential Records Act, which prohibits the president from destroying records without first consulting the archivist.

"President Trump’s Twitter account has become an important source of news and information about the government, and an important forum for speech by, to, or about the president," Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight Institute, said in an online statement. “The First Amendment applies to this digital forum in the same way it applies to town halls and open school board meetings. The White House acts unlawfully when it excludes people from this forum simply because they’ve disagreed with the president.”

Should the President be allowed to block users on his private Twitter account? Or has @realDonaldTrump become a digital town hall? Tell your reps by using the "Take Action" button below.

—Josh Herman

(Photo Credit: Pixabay / Creative Commons)

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