Donald Trump and his Twitter usage have been a concern for the public and legal analysts from day one.
The way that Trump uses Twitter indiscriminately, attacking others, contradicting his own administration, and spouting off with no apparent forethought were always a recipe for disaster. Now it looks as though another of his Twitter behaviors may just net Trump another lawsuit.
An organization dedicated to defending free speech is threatening to sue if Trump doesn’t quit blocking people on social media.
The Knight First Amendment Institute, at Columbia University, issued a public notice this week, announcing that the organization had sent a letter to Trump, asking him to unblock his critics or face legal action.
They say that by using his Twitter account to reach the public, bypassing the usual means of press conferences and Town Halls, Trump has created a public forum, and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids him to shut anyone out of that based solely on their viewpoint.
The letter warns that blocking constituents suppresses speech in mutliple ways.
- Prevents individuals from following the President on Twitter
- Makes finding his tweets (official statements) more difficult
- Prevents observing who else follows the President’s social media accounts
- Limits ability to interact in threads associated with Presidential tweets
This is of greater concern still since, on the same day the Knight Institute announced their concerns, Sean Spicer made an important announcement about Trump’s tweets in a press statement. According to ABC, Spicer declared that Trump’s tweets could all be considered official statements — contradicting what other members of the President’s administration have said.
Now that Trump’s Press Secretary has declared his tweets official White House communication, POTUS’s rampant blocking is an even higher concern. In what other scenario might a President or other elected official actually block members of the public from receiving official White House communications?
Though the official letter names two clients who the Knight Institute represents, they’re collecting complaints from others, so if Trump doesn’t respond by unblocking the public, the lawsuit could grow. Anyone who has been blocked by either the official Presidential Twitter handle @POTUS or Trump’s personal account, @realDonaldTrump, has been asked to send a screenshot and a link to the tweet that earned the blocking.
Blocked by @realDonaldTrump? Email us.
Include a link to your last tweet and screenshot of the block.
— Knight 1st Amendment (@knightcolumbia) June 8, 2017
This could have implications reaching beyond the current President, too. Other elected officials have also been caught blocking constituents for no apparent reason other than differing views, expression of critical opinions, or dissent. ProPublica details cases of other government officials (both Republicans and Democrats) who have blocked members of the public.
In some cases, ethics complaints have been filed. Members of the public have complained that blocking isn’t applied in an equal manner, and that it’s done to silence dissent. They say they’re being shut out of the political process and it isn’t acceptable.
Can we expect Donald Trump to listen and unblock the many Americans who vocally disagree with him? If not, he may find himself in court on First Amendment violation charges.