You've probably already heard people sigh over Trump's unprecedented use of Twitter. The president's affinity for the social media site has now presented his administration with additional unique and unprecedented circumstances: Some Twitter users who have been blocked by Trump are now seeking to regain access to his account, and threatening to sue the administration if this does not occur.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that Trump's personal Twitter account, @RealDonaldTrump, has blocked several users, preventing them from seeing or responding to the account's tweets. Reuters noted that the account blocked users after they posted content that "criticized, mocked or disagreed" with the president. Two of the blocked users include Holly O’Reilly, a songwriter, and Joseph M. Papp, an author and professional cyclist, who both published tweets criticizing the president.
These blocked users and many others are now seeking to regain access to the president's account, saying that the account constitutes a "public forum" to which all members of the public are allowed access, in accordance with the Constitution. The blocked users assert that prohibiting them from viewing the president's account because they expressed discordant views violates their First Amendment rights.
Some people who have been banned by Trump's account are being represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University in New York. According to The New York Times, lawyers at the Institute recently sent a letter to Trump as well as the White House counsel, the press secretary, and the director of social media. In the letter, they requested that the administration reverse the decision to block the users.
This Twitter account operates as a "designated public forum" for First Amendment purposes, and accordingly the viewpoint-based blocking of our clients is unconstitutional. ... We ask that you unblock them and any others who have been blocked for similar reasons.
According to The Verge, the Institute also suggested that there exists no difference between the two Twitter accounts @RealDonaldTrump and @POTUS. The Institute noted that both accounts are used to make official White House statements (as indicated by Sean Spicer) and thus they are both considered public forums prohibited from banning expression of free speech.
The letter implies that if the Trump administration does not comply and unblock designated users, the users will consider suing the administration. According to CNN, lawsuits regarding the social media accounts of public figures are not unprecedented. For example, in a case known as Davison v. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, a court ruled that the deletion of a citizen's post on the Facebook page of a County Supervisor violated the citizen's First Amendment rights. However, if Trump's administration does refuse to unblock the users and a lawsuit persists, it would certainly be the first time that a U.S. president is embroiled in a lawsuit over social media access.
Thus far, neither the White House nor Twitter have offered comments on the letter sent by the blocked users' legal representatives. It will certainly be interesting to see if and how the administration responds to the letter's requests and whether or not further legal action is taken.