A First Amendment Rights Group is suing the Trump administration for blocking Twitter users that disagree with White House posts.
Knight First Amendment Institute, out of Columbia University, filed suit Tuesday with a United States District Court. The three defendants named in the suit, are Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary, and Daniel Scavino, White House Director of Social Media.
Their complaint says that in the three Twitter accounts that the administration uses to communicate with the public, people are frequently blocked or posts are deleted if the administration does not agree with them. One would expect that to be the case with any organizational social media account.
“President Trump’s Twitter account has become an important source of news and information about the government, and an important public forum for speech by, to, and about the president,” the lawsuit reads. “In an effort to suppress dissent in this forum, defendants have excluded — blocked — Twitter users who have criticized the president or his policies. This practice is unconstitutional, and this suit seeks to end it.”
The suit quotes the Supreme Court case Packingham v. North Carolina. The case centers around an instance where a North Carolina law wanted to ban sex offenders from using social media. In that instance, the Supreme Court unaminoulsy ruled that that violated their First Amendment rights because social media had become, “the modern public square.”
The lawsuit goes on to claim that the high court ruled that social media platforms have been “revolutionary, not least because they have transformed civic engagement by allowing elected officials to communicate instantaneously and directly with their constituents.Governments in all 50 states almost every Member of Congress have set up accounts for these purposes.”
The lengthy complaint first of all alleges that the three accounts the White House maintains, his pre-presidential twitter account which has 33.7 million followers, the official Presidential account, which has 19.3 million followers, and the the White House account, which has 14.9 million followers—are considered part of the public forum.
“Because of the way the President and his aides use the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account, the account is a public forum under the First Amendment. Defendants have made the account accessible to all, taking advantage of Twitter’s interactive platform to directly engage the President’s 33 million followers….Defendants have promoted the President’s Twitter account as a key channel for official communication. Defendants use the account to make formal announcements, defend the presidents official actions, report on meetings with foreign leaders, and promote the administration’s positions….The President’s advisors have states that the tweets from @RealDonaldTrump are ‘official statements,’ and have been treated as such by politicians, world leaders, the National Archive and Records administration, and federal courts.”
The complaint goes on to give seven examples of people that have been blocked from Trump’s Twitter account. For example, there was a tweet in which Trump congratulated the opening of a Pennsylvania coal mine. One user replied, “Congrats, and now black lung won’t be covered under #TrumpCare.” The user was then blocked.
Rebecca Backwalter, a fellow at the Center for American progress, was also blocked when the President tweeted about “fake news,” and said that he would not have won the election, if he had relied upon it. Backwater replied, “To be fair you didn’t win the WH: Russia won it for you.” She was also blocked.
The rest of the people blocked are plaintiffs in the suit and have been blocked for various reasons. By blocking them, he is also prohibiting them from commenting, and therefore refusing them their right of “redress of grievances,” the suit alleges. Twitter accounts, the suit explains are a new kind of digital town hall where everyone should be allowed to participate.
Skeptics to the lawsuit claim that Donald Trump’s account was personal, and that he could block anyone that he believed was trolling his account, just like anyone else. They also said a person with a blocked Twitter account could still view his, as long as they were not posting under their own account.
The lawsuit takes exception to this, citing the handful of efforts that the administration has made to consider presidential tweets an official form of communication. Some examples include when he nominated Christopher Wray as FBI Director, and various Tweets and announcements he made using the forum regarding the Comey investigation.
While it is understandable that the President would block from his daily view the many dissenting opinions from everyday citizens, and we are all digitally savvy enough to know that what one does with social media platforms is at one’s own discretion, there is a valid to point to this.
To be blocked from the President’s own Twitter account, seems a bit totalitarian. For an ordinary citizen to feel that the President specifically refuses to hear their opinions, seems un-American at best. However, it does seem more efficient that these opinions be compiled together to be represented by activist groups, rather than have the President have to hear individual citizens echo what’s already been said and considered in bulleted talking points.