Can Trump Block Twitter Users? A New York District Judge Decided If It's Legal
The president of the United States might have to stay off Twitter for a while. On Wednesday, a New York federal district court judge ruled that President Trump cannot block Twitter users over their political views, a decision that will be welcomed by many of his critics — but probably not him.
On Wednesday, District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that Trump was violating the Constitution by blocking people on Twitter, since that prevents them from reading his tweets. "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 wrote in her ruling. "The answer to both questions is no."
The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed a lawsuit against Trump in July 2017. Plaintiffs argued that as president, Trump's Twitter account is a public forum, and he cannot prevent members of the public from viewing his tweets simply because they criticized him.
Around that time, former Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a briefing that Trump considers his tweets "official statements by the president of the United States."
Trump has long expressed aversion to criticism, both from the media and the public. Though he employs a different tactic in dealing with negative media coverage, the president has a habit of blocking Twitter users who criticize him on the platform. (There's even a website dedicated to the Twitter accounts the president has blocked.) Trump has blocked journalists who cover the White House, respected veteran organizations, celebrities like Chrissy Teigen who publicly condemn his actions — even a cancer patient who criticized his push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has been at the receiving end of his wrath on Twitter.
As president, Trump uses Twitter in a way that no other elected official before him has. He has announced major policy decisions on the platform, publicly denounce people who criticize him, mock other world leaders (like calling Kim Jong Un "little rocket man"), and praise those who support him.
How he uses Twitter has raised questions before. In the past, users have called on Twitter officials to suspend President Trump from the website, especially after he tweeted what many took as a threat of nuclear action against North Korea. At the time, Twitter responded:
Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions."
While Trump is as unconventional a president as he was a candidate, the ruling on Wednesday wades into uncharted territory as far as public figures and free speech goes. On Twitter, at least one person raised the question of the potential issues this ruling could cause public figures who receive personal threats and attacks on the social media platform.
Some of the responses to Buchwald's ruling, however, mocked the president for the people he blocked — and the ones he didn't.
Buchwald had previously suggested that Trump mute his critics on Twitter (which would still allow them to access his tweets), rather than block them. On Wednesday, her decision firmly removed Trump's ability to block people.
"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. President Trump might just have to grow thicker skin.