You Can Block Critics on Twitter, but the President Can't

A federal judge has ruled people have a First Amendment right to comment on President Trump's Twitter feed even if he doesn't like what they say.
You Can Block Critics on Twitter, but the President Can't
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Donald Trump

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A federal judge has ruled that when private citizen Donald Trump was elected President Donald Trump, he lost his power to block critics from his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account.

The ruling by Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found that the President’s Twitter feed is the digital equivalent of public forum under government control -- no different than an auditorium used for public hearings. Blocking individuals from Trump’s Twitter feed simply because he doesn’t like their opinions is the unconstitutional equivalent of barring entrance to a public meeting, the judge found. She noted in her ruling that the White House “[does] not contest Plaintiffs’ allegation that the Individual Plaintiffs were blocked from the President’s Twitter account because the Individual Plaintiffs posted tweets that criticized the President or his policies.”

Because the ruling is specific to a public official operating a social media account as a part of official business, it places no limit on other public figures, such as high-profile celebrities or corporate executives, to block critics from their accounts.

Related: Does Trump's Twitter Blocking Violate the First Amendment?

The judge, out of respect for separation of powers, did not order White House Social Media Director Daniel Scavino, who was named in the suit in his official capacity, to unblock the seven accounts. She instead wrote that the White House, which has not yet said if it will appeal, is expected to comply with the law.

“Because no government official is above the law and because all government officials are presumed to follow the law once the judiciary has said what the law is, we must assume that the president and Scavino will remedy the blocking we have held to be unconstitutional,” Buchwald wrote in her ruling.

The ruling is likely to factor into how elected officials around the country manage their social media accounts. The ruling has already been cited by the ACLU of Maine against that state’s governor, Paul LaPage, for blocking two followers after they commented critically on his tweets about state policies.

The tweets that got the seven defendants blocked were all critical comments but devoid of profanity or threats. For instance, when Trump tweeted, “Sorry folks, but if I would have relied on the Fake News of CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, washpost or nytimes, I would have had ZERO chance winning WH,” one of the plaintiffs, Rebecca Buckwalter, was blocked soon after retorting, “To be fair you didn’t win the WH: Russia won it for you.”

Buckwalter on Wednesday tweeted, “I sued the President, and I won.”

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