Fresh off his unprecedented 40-hour hiatus from Twitter, President Donald Trump is attempting to re-open the discussion on whether he ought to be allowed to block his critics on the social media platform, according to a report by Bloomberg. Lawyers for the famously Twitter-addicted president will return to court on Tuesday to ask an appellate judge to reconsider another federal judge’s ruling last May, which stated that Trump cannot block Twitter users because, as president, his account constitutes a public forum. It’s been nearly a year since that ruling has prevented Trump from silencing his critics or preventing them from interacting with his account, and his lawyers are going to ask the judge to overturn that ruling based on the argument that Trump’s Twitter account is his own as a private citizen, and isn’t controlled by any government entity.
It’s an important case, not just in terms of whether the famously thin-skinned president should be able to block opinions and criticism he doesn’t like, but also because it could help to cement precedent on how government officials may and may not use social media as it becomes ever more entwined into our daily existence.
“It’s a hugely significant case in terms of how government officials can use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and whom they can permissibly block from following them. Government officials can still have private accounts without triggering First Amendment concerns if they use those accounts only for non-governmental purposes,” said Clay Calvert, director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida.
“But when it’s Trump and he uses Twitter on a daily and nightly basis to comment on government issues and to criticize politicians, then that is where the First Amendment comes into play.”
Ever since he joined Twitter ten years ago, Trump has not shied away from using it as a bully pulpit to berate his critics, hurl invective at the press, mock his political opponents, and deliver a constant stream of opinion and commentary on virtually every important issue facing him personally as well as the nation. His most recent Twitter war pitted him and his 59 million followers against the husband of White House aide Kellyanne Conway, calling George Conway a “loser,” and the “husband from hell,” while claiming to barely know the guy.
The ban on his using the “block” feature on Twitter came about after the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued Trump and White House social media director Dan Scavino on behalf of seven users the president blocked after they criticized him. While Trump’s lawyers argued in that case that he uses Twitter “not to provide a platform for public discussion, but to disseminate his own views to the world,” his former White House spokesman Sean Spicer once told the press that Trump’s tweets should be considered official statements.
The judge in last May’s case ruled that by blocking people, Trump was limiting their free speech because it prevented them from interacting with others who replied to his tweets, and she compelled him to unblock the seven plaintiffs as well as dozens of others who had also been blocked.
“Because our media is so dishonest, Twitter is a way that I get out the word when we have a corrupt media,” Trump said just last week.
The appeals court judge will hear arguments on Tuesday.