In May 2018, a federal ruling stated that President Donald Trump would no longer be able to block users on Twitter. Trump has blocked numerous people on Twitter already after reading tweets and replies. One example of this is author Stephen King, who said he was blocked after he tweeted June 13, 2017, “Trump’s cabinet offers a postgraduate-level course in ass-kissing.”
The federal judge in Manhattan ruled that Trump’s blocking certain individuals is unconstitutional, which violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. His account is also supposed to be displayed for political reasons, not personal ones. United States district judge Naomi Reice Buchwald stated, “The president presents the @realDonaldTrump account as being a presidential account as opposed to a personal account and, more importantly, uses the account to take actions that can be taken only by the president as president.” Buchwald later said that this privilege was revoked because he could have just ignored users’ replies, but instead he chose to block them.
The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has taken a leap on this issue. They sent a letter to President Trump that requested he unfollow two specific users: Joe Papp and Holly Figueroa O'Reilly, who were being critical of Trump. The letter was signed by the Knight Institute’s founding director Jameel Jaffer and senior Knight Institute attorneys Katie Fallow and Alex Abdo. The letter stated, “Your account constitutes a designated public forum. It 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 responses from you. Your Twitter account is a designated public forum for essentially the same reasons that open city council meetings and school board meetings are.”
Photo courtesy Twitter
One figure on the other side of this debate is constitutional law scholar Michael W. McConnell, the director of Stanford’s Constitutional Law Center. He argued, “The president is entitled to communicate with whoever he wants whenever he wants to. No one has the right to compel someone else to communicate with them.” He later said, “If Trump or anyone else wants to limit his Twitter audience, he can do that. As can any other public official or any private person.”
Trump’s tweets come from two accounts: @realDonaldTrump and @POTUS. The @realDonaldTrump is his more commonly used account, where he publically displays his opinions on current issues. He also expresses his opinion on his @POTUS account. However, as Alex Abdo said, “This is not a Twitter account dedicated to personal interests and family affairs. This is for all intents and purposes the official account of the White House.” The White House has not yet responded to the Knight Institute’s letter, but the debate will remain on whether this ruling is constitutional or not.