Donald Trump has frequently blocked various users from his personal Twitter account. This habit has led to court challenges by those that have been blocked by Trump, with petitioners arguing that as constituents of the president, they cannot be blocked from his Twitter page. The White House, on the other hand, has claimed that because the @realDonaldTrump Twitter handle which Trump uses to block people is not official and was up before he became President, he has done nothing wrong, per Business Insider.
While that case is still pending in the circuit courts, another case of a similar nature — being contested in a Virginia court — sided with the petitioner. A case was brought against a local county official in Virginia. The official was accused of violating the First Amendment rights of one of their constituents by blocking them on the official’s Facebook page. The Fourth Circuit Court in Virginia ruled that the petitioner cannot be blocked by the local official because “the First Amendment, which prohibits government censorship of real-life communications, also applies to online platforms,” according to Axios.
“Public officials, who increasingly use social media accounts as public forums to foster speech and debate among their constituents, have no greater license to suppress dissent online than they do offline,” said attorney Katie Fallow, who argued the case.
NEW from the 4th Circuit: Elected officials cannot silence critics on social media, court says in Virginia case with implications for how @realDonaldTrump manages his Twitter account.https://t.co/U0yeDGxLkr
— Ann Marimow (@amarimow) January 7, 2019
This court decision could have a significant impact on Trump’s appeal of a ruling expressing that he must unblock those he had previously blocked, per the Mercury News. Trump’s case is expected to be heard this summer in circuit courts, and it is possible that judgments may be levied with this precedent in mind. Joshua Geltzer, Executive Director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law Center, said that judges tend to look at “sister circuits” in cases where the nature of the arguments are similar.
Despite the White House’s stance that Trump is not liable as a public official because it is not the official @POTUS account which blocks people, the argument might not hold up well in court. Trump has repeatedly used his personal Twitter handle to make official communications — not only with the public, but even with members of his own administration.
If the Monday decision by the Virginia court is anything to go by, it is possible that Donald Trump might have to unblock a number of persons that he had previously blocked. The @realDonaldTrump Twitter account currently boasts 57.1 million followers, and the American president typically tweets multiple times per day.