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Blocked by Trump? He’s not allowed to do that

Yesterday. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald confirmed that while blocking the President’s access to his @realDonaldTrump account would be a violation of free speech, he may not block Twitter users from viewing his profile due to their political beliefs.

The lawsuit against Trump and other White House officials stems from his decision to bar a number of critics on the popular social media platform. The case was brought by The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University on behalf of several Twitter users who had been blocked by Trump for criticizing or mocking him online.

Judge Buchwald agreed with their argument that Twitter qualifies as a “designated public forum” granted to all US citizens.

“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,” the judge said in her opinion.

“The answer to both questions is no.”

The judge then went on to reject arguments from Trump’s lawyers that the “First Amendment does not apply in this case and that the President’s personal First Amendment interests supersede those of plaintiffs”.

Trump has gained over 52 million followers on Twitter since he joined in March 2009. He often eschews the official US presidential Twitter account, @POTUS, as well as his own White House press office, to make official announcements.

Earlier in the trial, Judge Buchwald suggested that the president, who was not in court, simply mute the accounts of users he no longer wishes to see. Blocking a user on Twitter disables their right to see or respond to tweets from your account whereas muting them allows them to still see and respond, without you ever having to see it.

It’s unclear whether Trump will unblock his critics, but the judge hinted that the president could face legal action if he did not comply with the ruling.

She wrote “because all government officials are presumed to follow the law once the judiciary has said what the law is, we must assume that the President [and his social media director] will remedy the blocking we have held to be unconstitutional”.

 

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