Published: Fri, May 25, 2018
Health Care | By Belinda Paul

You have no right to block people on Twitter, court tells Trump

You have no right to block people on Twitter, court tells Trump

"This case requires us to consider whether a public official may, consistent with the First Amendment, "block" a person from his Twitter account in response to the political views that person has expressed, and whether the analysis differs because that public official is the president of the United States", Buchwald said.

It argued that Trump's account constituted a public forum under the First Amendment, and that the White House was violating the plaintiffs' First Amendment right to petition their government for redress of grievances. "The answer to both questions is no", she concluded.

In the lawsuit, the seven individual plaintiffs, including a University of Maryland professor, a Texas police officer and a NY comic, said they were blocked from the @realDonaldTrump account after posting tweets critical of his policies.

Buchwald said that their inability to reply to Trump's tweets after being blocked amounted to a violation of their First Amendment rights.

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's critics have a First Amendment right to tweet at him, even if he doesn't like what they have to say.

The Department of Justice said in a statement that it "respectfully" disagrees with the ruling and is considering how to proceed.

The White House did not immediately have a comment on the ruling. As Twitter favors verified users on the platform, while often shadowbanning conservative accounts, liberal and left-leaning responses to the President often appear at the top of his replies.

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

Buchwald said Trump could opt to mute his critics instead.

Eugene Volokh, a University of California Los Angeles School of Law professor who specializes in First Amendment issues, said the decision's effect would reach beyond Trump.

The US Department of Justice, which represents the president in the case, said it disagreed with the ruling and is considering the next steps.

"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.

It argued that the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account is a "public forum" under the First Amendment. "If all goes well, Hollywood will immortalize him as an evildoer who got his comeuppance". "But the people's First Amendment rights to see these messages and respond to them must be respected". And that, ruled Naomi Buchwald, a New York Federal judge, raises a constitutional problem.

One of the people that Mr Trump blocked, Holly O'Reilly, who uses the account @AynRandPaulRyan, was blocked last May after posting a GIF of Mr Trump meeting with Pope Francis.

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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