Did Trump Violate Twitter Critics’ Rights By Blocking Them?

President Donald Trump has blocked critics in the past, prompting impacted parties to launch a lawsuit claiming that he violated their free speech rights.

Man holds phone showing an image of Trump.

President Donald Trump could be violating Twitter users’ rights by blocking them on Twitter, a lawsuit filed by Columbia University alleges. Now, it's up to Senior Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald to review the case after the president requested the lawsuit be dismissed.

According to the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, any American citizen is granted the right to be free to express his or her views to elected officials. Blocking them on a social media website because their views are critical of the current administration is, therefore, undemocratic, Columbia University and its attorneys claim.

"Once it is a public forum, you can't shut somebody up because you don't like what they're saying," Buchwald told the president’s lawyer, Michael Baer, explaining that Twitter was the equivalent of a town hall meeting.

In such environments, a politician who’s an elected official is not allowed to simply shut down a person in the audience because of contrarian views. Therefore, according to Buchwald, the president should not be allowed to block a critic on the privately-run social media network.

Baer didn’t agree, saying that instead, blocking a user is the equivalent of walking away from a hostile crowd.

Eventually, the judge offered a middle-ground solution, telling Baer that the president could “mute” the critics instead of blocking, therefore being able to ignore their tweets while not keeping them from actually being able to speak at him.

“Why are we here," she asked. "Don't we have a solution that serves the interests of the plaintiffs, serves the interests of the president?"

While Baer said that both blocking and muting are part of “the president’s associational freedoms,” the plaintiffs’ attorney, Katharine Fallow, suggested that she and her clients would not oppose the judge’s suggestion. Still, she added, simply muting critics isn’t “necessarily a perfect solution."

Regardless of whether the judge ends up siding with the plaintiffs or the president, this isn’t the first time an elected official has blocked users on Twitter. This demonstrates that this problem is much bigger than the president and that this case could mean that, in the future, other politicians could be challenged in court if they decide to silence their critics with the same tactics. 

Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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