Seven Twitter users, backed by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, are suing President Donald Trump for blocking them on Twitter after they responded critically to his tweets.
The Institute argues that Trump’s Twitter posts are broadcast so widely that they should be designated as public forums where anyone is allowed to participate and speak freely.
The lawsuit was filed after the Knight Institute sent a letter to the White House condemning Trump for blocking users and calling for him to unblock individuals who can no longer view or reply to tweets linked to the president’s account. The letter asserted that, “The government may impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions in a designated public forum, but it may not exclude people simply because it disagrees with them.”
White House officials did not respond to the letter which compelled the Knight Institute to file a lawsuit against the president in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The plaintiffs’ case offers a new perspective into the parameters of the First Amendment as it should be interpreted in the sphere of the Internet. Some legal specialists say the argument checks out, while others are more skeptical.
Legal scholars who are critical of the lawsuit say that Trump’s twitter profile is personal and private and that blocking someone’s Twitter account does not prevent that person from creating a new one which could be used to follow the president.
But as Reuters reports, Press Secretary Sean Spicer admitted last month that tweets delivered from @realDonaldTrump could be considered, “official statements by the President of the United States.” That means that Trump’s tweets are not those of a private citizen but are instead public statements which can be freely speculated on and critiqued by anyone.
Trump’s blocking of individual Twitter accounts is only one of a number of tactics adopted by the administration to reduce public criticism and dissent. Most recently, the White House has forbidden reporters from recording press briefings, an act that journalists across the U.S. have widely condemned.