US Judge to Donald Trump: 'You Can't Block Twitter Users'

Ruben Ruiz
May 24, 2018

US President Donald Trump can not legally block his followers on Twitter based on their political views, a federal judge ruled today.

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.

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan stopped short in her written decision of ordering Trump or a subordinate to stop the practice of blocking critics from viewing his Twitter account, saying it was enough to point out that it was unconstitutional.

Like a lot of people, the President has taken to blocking people who criticise him - but he's going to have to unblock them after a judge ruled he is violating the First Amendment.

The ruling has implications for any government official-federal, state, or local-who uses Twitter or other social media platforms to communicate with the public.

"We're pleased with the court's decision, which reflects a careful application of core First Amendment principles to government censorship on a new communications platform", said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which had filed the lawsuit on behalf of the group.

Twitter's responsibility in policing the public forum was not mentioned in Buchwald's ruling, creating a giant question mark over what specifics should be implemented going forward.

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The White House directed queries to the Department of Justice, where a spokeswoman said in a statement, "We respectfully disagree with the court's decision and are considering our next steps".

Like all Twitter users, Trump has been able to "block" users he doesn't like, effectively stopping them from responding to his tweets.

Buchwald said Trump could opt to mute his critics instead.

The blocked: Along with Cohen, several other Twitter users have accused Trump of blocking them on Twitter. 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. These are both true, Judge Buchwald found, but that doesn't mean blocking is okay.

Caplan, who agreed with Buchwald's ruling, said government officials can't choose to listen exclusively to their supporters.

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.

She also rejected the suggestion that since Twitter is a private company it is beyond the reach of First Amendment forum rules. He has blocked many critics from his account, which prevents them from directly responding to his tweets.

Whether or not Trump will accept this ruling and move to start unblocking users remains to be seen, or if he will challenge this ruling, but if anything it does set an interesting precedent.

Other reports by GizPress

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