The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit digital rights advocacy group, filed an amicus brief on Friday, informing the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that President Donald Trump is violating the First Amendment by blocking people on Twitter for disagreeing with his statements and policies.
In a press release posted Friday on the EFF website, Karen Gullo and David Greene explained that this is the second time the organization is bringing up the issue with a court, as Trump’s tendency to block Twitter users has “broad implications” for the general public, given the government’s increasing presence on social media. The press release stressed that the seven plaintiffs previously blocked by the president are all represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute, a Columbia University think tank dedicated to defending the “freedoms of speech and the press in the digital age.”
In May, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled against Trump in the first round of the case and asked the president to unblock the plaintiffs from Twitter. This, according to the EFF, marked a “great victory for free speech” in today’s age of social media. But with the new brief having been filed, the advocacy group explained the rationale behind the move, stating that the president’s lawyers are now asking an appeals court to reverse the ruling on the grounds that “@realDonaldTrump” is his personal handle and “private property,” therefore giving him the right to block anyone at any time.
“In the brief we filed today we’ve told the appeals court that those arguments—which were wrong on the law in the first place—are still wrong,” the EFF continued.
“The president has chosen to use his longtime Twitter handle to communicate his administration’s goals, announce policy decisions, and talk about government activity.”
Our amicus brief in @knightcolumbia v. Trump: It's not just about Trump's twitter. Agencies & officials at all govt levels use social media to communicate to & with the general public. A 1st Amendment framing is needed to preserve the public's rights.https://t.co/OZ1TOuve7n— David Greene (@davidgreene) October 19, 2018
The EFF added that the brief is important because Twitter is now a “vital communications tool” for government officials and public agencies, as social media use is now frequently used for the release of public safety reminders during times of calamity, policy announcements, and the issuance of official public statements on certain matters. In doing so, the organization stressed, officials are allowing people to exercise their First Amendment rights by receiving such messages via social media.
“This right, we told the appeals court, is infringed when [the] government denies access to these messages because it disagrees with someone’s viewpoints,” the EFF concluded.
As noted by CNBC, the seven plaintiffs named in both cases were individuals who had posted critical comments on Twitter about Donald Trump and his administration. These included former Vanderbilt University surgery resident Eugene Gu, who referenced the president’s accidental “covfefe” tweet from 2017 in saying that the “same guy who doesn’t proofread his Twitter handles the nuclear button,” comedian and writer Nicholas Pappas, who remarked that presidential daughter Ivanka Trump “must be attracted to men like her father,” and University of Maryland sociology professor Philip Cohen, who referred to the president as a “corrupt incompetent authoritarian.”