Justice

Group Says Trump Can't Block Twitter Followers

June 6th 2017

By:
Kyle Jaeger

Can the president block users from viewing and responding to his personal Twitter account?

Donald-Trump

According to Columbia University's Knight First Amendment Institute, argues that the answer is "no." In fact, the institution is arguing that President Donald Trump's account is tantamount to a "designated public forum," and by blocking users, the president is violating citizens' constitutional right to participate in that public forum.

"When the government makes a space available to the public at large for the purpose of expressive activity, it creates a public forum from which it may not constitutionally exclude individuals on the basis of viewpoint," the organization wrote in a letter to the White House on Tuesday. The letter continued:

"[Trump's Twitter account] is a forum for expression in which you share information and opinions relating to government policy with the public at large, and in which members of the public can engage you, engage one another, and sometimes elicit response from you. Your Twitter account is a designated public form for essentially the same reasons that open city council meetings and school board meetings are."

The Knight First Amendment Institute hasn't filed a lawsuit against the president, but it said that it is currently representing two Twitter users who were blocked by @realDonaldTrump in the past two weeks. Both Twitter users were allegedly blocked after posting critical tweets directed at Trump.

But Michael Overing, a lawyer and professor at the University of Southern California, told The Los Angeles Times that describing Trump's personal Twitter account as a "designated public forum" is a stretch.

Travel ban protest

"Overing said courts would most likely deem a public forum a physical venue like a park or town hall, not a social media platform," the Times reported. "He also argued that Trump has 1st Amendment rights on Twitter that could supersede those of the people he blocks, and that not everyone gets the right to respond to the president’s statements—not unlike a news conference, where only some reporters get the opportunity to ask a question."

The authors of the U.S. Constitution wouldn't have accounted for Twitter when they made public forums protected spaces for free speech.

Constitution

That said, there's an argument to be made that, by blocking users, Trump is effectively imposing a burden on citizens who would otherwise be able to not only view but engage with the president through social media. The Knight Institute wrote that protecting "speech critical of government officials is perhaps the core concern of the First Amendment, because the freedom of individuals to engage in this kind of speech is crucial to self-government."

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.