President Donald Trump has blocked a few of critics from his personal Twitter account (@realDonaldTrump) that he has maintained for eight years. Apparently, some of those critics have sued in federal court challenging his ability to block them.
In July, several Twitter users who were blocked by President Trump filed a lawsuit against him. The New York Times reported:
A group of Twitter users blocked by President Trump sued him and two top White House aides on Tuesday, arguing that his account amounts to a public forum that he, as a government official, cannot bar people from.
The blocked Twitter users, represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, raised cutting-edge issues about how the Constitution applies to the social media era. They say Mr. Trump cannot bar people from engaging with his account because they expressed opinions he did not like, such as mocking or criticizing him.
“The @realDonaldTrump account is a kind of digital town hall in which the president and his aides use the tweet function to communicate news and information to the public, and members of the public use the reply function to respond to the president and his aides and exchange views with one another,” the lawsuit said.
By blocking people from reading his tweets, or from viewing and replying to message chains based on them, Mr. Trump is violating their First Amendment rights because they expressed views he did not like, the lawsuit argued.
The judge should reject the lawsuit for four reasons (beyond it being patently ridiculous).
1. Blocking someone on Twitter does not impede their right to free speech.
You have a right to free speech, but you do not have a right to compel people to listen. The First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.”
Someone blocking you on Twitter, whether he is the President or not, is not akin to Congress passing a law or a federal agency regulating speech. President Trump’s @realDonaldTrump’s is not a town hall; it is his personal Twitter feed provided through a private social media company.
Blocking someone on Twitter does not prevent them from tweeting. It does not prevent other people from seeing their Tweets. It does not mean they can not criticize the President. It just means that President Trump will not receive their notifications on Twitter. It also means they can not view his Twitter feed while they are signed-in under the username that was blocked. (You can see his Twitter account without being signed-in since it is public.)
The First Amendment does not compel the President or anyone else to have to listen to a person’s speech. It guarantees a person’s right to speak; it does not ensure they will have an audience.
2. Blocking someone on Twitter does not impede the right to petition their Government.
The First Amendment also says that “Congress shall make no law abridging the right…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
There is a whole host of other ways people can contact the federal government. The President blocking someone on Twitter does not prevent them from contacting the Administration. You can write, leave a message with the White House switchboard, email, sign a petition, tweet at other White House officials, send a Facebook message, etc.
There is no right to be able to contact your elected official on Twitter directly. This phenomenon is unprecedented. Unless it is a staff-run Twitter account, Twitter has given constituents the ability to speak directly to the elected official whether it is a Governor, state legislator, Congressman, U.S. Senator, or the President.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon has also given birth to a cesspool with no filters. It also allows people to set up anonymous accounts and tweet the vilest things.
Is an elected official required to have his or her personal Twitter account blow-up with notifications about garbage like that? No.
3. @realDonaldTrump is President Trump’s personal Twitter account.
Those who filed this lawsuit would have a stronger case if the account in question were @WhiteHouse, @POTUS, @VP or one of the other official Twitter accounts for the executive branch. That is not the case (and even then an argument that it impedes a person’s First Amendment rights is weak).
@realDonaldTrump is the personal account for Donald Trump that he has had for the last eight years. A federal judge should not strip President Donald Trump of his ability to block the accounts of those who insult or criticize him. That’s his right. Twitter gives all users this ability.
4. Twitter is privately owned so you do not have a right to use it.
Twitter has blocked certain tweets and has rejected particular ads if it does not meet with their terms of service. Because they are privately owned they have the right to do that. They have banned people from using Twitter. They have the right to do that.
I do not always agree with they utilize their ability to block tweets and ban users, but they have the right to do it. They do not represent the government.
Since you do not even have a right to have a Twitter account, you definitely do not have the right to tweet at people who do not want to listen.
Those who filed this lawsuit and the lawyers who represent them have a flawed understanding of the First Amendment. Social media has given all of us a tremendous platform to be able to communicate our views. Congress and the federal government has done nothing to regulate that speech. The government, through the judicial branch, should not compel anyone, including the President, to have to listen to it.