If Trump blocks you on Twitter, can you sue?

Politics, News, Rights

Twitter’s history as a communication medium is short, and so the sample size is limited. However, we can say categorically that we’ve never had a president who tweets as prolifically as Donald Trump.

President Trump uses Twitter is a key means of communicating with the American public, and his tweets have been confirmed as official statements, first by former press secretary Sean Spicer and later in court filings from the Department of Justice. And when he’s not too busy being the leader of the free world, Trump takes time to weed out critics among his 33.6 million followers, blocking their access to @RealDonaldTrump—and, according to some constitutional experts, violating their First Amendment rights.

You’re fired! I mean, blocked!

Trump has blocked celebrities, politicians, and everyday citizens—basically, anyone who Trump deems to have criticized or disagreed with him unfairly—from following him on Twitter. Now, lawyers from the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University have filed suit against the president, calling for him to remove those blocks.

Blocked followers are unable to view the president’s public comments. The Knight Institute attorneys maintain that preventing access to an elected official’s social media account violates constituents’ First Amendment right to free speech, as well as breaching their First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances; that is, the right to make a complaint without fear of retaliation or punishment.

Do they have a case?

In a recent letter to @RealDonaldTrump, the Knight Institute lawyers wrote, “Your Twitter account is a designated public forum for essentially the same reasons that open city council meetings and school board meetings are.” Thus, they argue, while average Twitter users can block whomever they desire, government officials who are using social media in an official capacity should not be able to punish someone for expressing an opinion.

Katie Fallow, senior attorney at the Knight Institute, told CNN Tech, “While [our letter] relates to our most prominent Twitter user, the principles we seek to vindicate apply to all public officials and public entities that use social media to conduct government business and allow the public to participate.”

The civil action, filed on July 11 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, names former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and White House Director of Social Media and Assistant to the President Daniel Scavino as defendants along with Trump.