In a lawsuit filed today, a small cluster of Twitter users is suing the president for blocking them on the platform. The case, brought forward by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, argues that by blocking the users the Trump administration is in fact suppressing speech and that the act “imposes a viewpoint-based restriction on the Individual Plaintiffs’ participation in a public forum.”
Prior to filing the suit, the Institute condemned Trump’s decision to block the group of users in a letter on June 6. Pursuing the same complaints, the lawsuit argues that Trump’s Twitter account constitutes a public forum and blocking those users is a violation of their First Amendment rights, making it unconstitutional.
Filed in the Southern District of New York, the suit makes the following argument:
“President Trump’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, has become an important source of news and information about the government, and an important public forum for speech by, to, and about the President. In an effort to suppress dissent in this forum, Defendants have excluded—“blocked”—Twitter users who have criticized the President or his policies. This practice is unconstitutional, and this suit seeks to end it.”
The lawsuit represents seven users who have earned Trump’s ire one way or another. Among them are verified users @aynrandpaulryan and @joepabike who were blocked after a tweet mocking his visit with the Pope and one criticizing him with the hashtag #fakeleader, respectively.
Apart from Trump himself, the suit names Sean Spicer, who ostensibly controls White House communications, as a defendant along with Daniel Scavino, White House Social Media Director.
The whole thing sounds a little far-fetched until you think about just how much current news and policy is disseminated solely on the platform by a White House happy to eschew communication norms. Considering that Twitter is an official White House channel and often the only way the president addresses the public, the argument might not be so crazy after all.
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