Seven individuals who President Trump blocked on Twitter filed a lawsuit against him this past Tuesday, July 11th, arguing the practice violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York.
President Trump has utilized his official Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, to speak directly to the American people without the commentary or filter of the press, who Trump has publicly and consistently derided. Trump has used his Twitter handle to harshly criticize his political and media adversaries. He also routinely uses the technology to announce important U.S. policy, presidential nominations and more. In fact, the White House has announced that Trump’s tweets are to be treated as official White House statements.
Much like the average Twitter user, Trump apparently reads comments from other people responding to his tweets. The notoriously thin skinned Trump does not hesitate to block individuals with negative or critical opinions of him. Seven individuals that he has blocked from seeing or interacting with his account have now brought suit against him, with the help of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. The lawsuit raises new legal questions concerning what constitutes a public forum under the Constitution. Furthermore, the suit tests the boundaries of free-speech on the internet.
The First Amendment’s freedom of speech right not only bans most government restrictions on the content of speech and ability to speak, but also protects the right to receive information, prohibits most government restrictions or burdens that discriminate between speakers, restricts the tort liability of individuals for certain speech, and prevents the government from requiring individuals and corporations to speak or finance certain types of speech with which they don’t agree. Criticism of the government, political advocacy, and advocacy of unpopular ideas that people may find distasteful or against public policy are almost always permitted.
According to the lawsuit, one plaintiff, Holly Figueroa, “replied to the President in a series of tweets, including one that contained an image of Pope Francis looking incredulously at President Trump, along with the statement ‘This is pretty much how the whole world sees you. #AMJoy #SundayMorning.'” Her reply received nearly 15,000 likes and 5,300 retweets. Later that night, Figueroa discovered she had been blocked by Trump, according to the lawsuit.
Similarly, after 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,” another plaintiff, Rebecca Buckwalter, replied, “To be fair you didn’t win the WH: Russia won it for you.” Her reply drew 9,100 likes and 3,400 retweets. Soon after, Buckwalter discovered she had been blocked, the lawsuit said.
After Trump tweeted, “The new Rasmussen Poll, one of the most accurate in the 2016 Election, just out with a Trump 50% Approval Rating. That’s higher than O’s #’s!,” another plaintiff, Eugene Gu, replied, “Covfefe: The same guy who doesn’t proofread his Twitter handles the nuclear button.” His reply drew 2,900 likes and 300 retweets. Gu discovered he had been blocked from the @realDonaldTrump account about two hours later, the lawsuit said.
image via Twitter
“President Trump’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, 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 said. “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 Plaintiffs in this case state the relief that they request is simply a declaration that Trump’s actions were unconstitutional. Furthermore, they are seeking an injunction that would require Trump to unblock their accounts and an order to prevent him from blocking others. If the Court decides in favor of the blocked twitter users it would set a new precedent concerning the Constitution and social media.
The only question that remains is will President Trump tweet about this?