Donald Trump could have a problem with his Twitter habits.
In a court case that could have big implications for the president’s social media habits, a federal judge ruled this week that public officials are not permitted to place social media blocks on people who are critical of them. The case involved Phillis Randall, a member of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors in Virginia, who maintained a Facebook page for constituents to keep in touch.
As the Wall Street Journal noted, Randall promoted the Facebook page as a way for all citizens to reach out. One man made a post to the page accusing the local school board of corruption, which Randall then deleted and blocked the man from viewing the page. The citizen took Randall to court, and a federal judge ruled this week that the Facebook ban was actually a violation of the man’s First Amendment rights.
The ruling does not apply directly to Donald Trump, but it could have implications for the president and his Twitter habits. The president has drawn criticism for blocking critics from his personal Twitter page (Trump does not block anyone from the official @POTUS account).
An analysis from Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern predicted that Trump would be pressed legally on his blocking of Twitter users, and the president would likely argue that he can do as he wants with his personal account. But Stern wrote that this argument was likely to fail.
“As Trump’s recent tweets banning transgender military service demonstrate, the president uses Twitter not just to convey official policy but also for lawmaking,” Stern wrote. “This habit would seem to turn his feed into a quintessential public forum. And so, under the First Amendment, he lacks the power to block those users who tweet their discontent at @realDonaldTrump.”
Even if Donald Trump does not suffer a legal setback in his Twitter habits, he may be facing pressure from within his own administration to rein in the social media sharing. Reports this week indicated that Defense Secretary James Mattis was appalled that Trump decided to announce on Twitter his ban on transgender people from serving in the military. As The Hill reported, Mattis had no idea that Trump was planning to make the announcement and saw the tweets as an insult to transgender members of the armed services.
There have been other reports that senior officials have tried to limit Donald Trump’s access to his Twitter account and encouraged the president not to share his free-flowing thoughts on the social media site but to no avail.
[Featured Image by Olivier Doulieryl/ Pool/ Getty Images]