Fri, May 25, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Trump ordered to give critics Twitter access

Bloomberg

US President Donald Trump cannot block critics from following his Twitter account, a federal judge ruled in a decision that opens his favorite communication forum to uncensored commentary from political opponents.

In a 75-page ruling that rejects Trump’s argument that he has a First Amendment right to pick with whom he associates, US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said that the section of his personal account with the reply button is a public forum.

Blocking users on the basis of political speech is a violation of their right to free speech, the court said.

“This is a groundbreaking decision,” said Clay Calvert, a First Amendment expert who teaches at University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. “It establishes that social media accounts operated by a government official — even the president of the United States — constitutes a public forum.”

While it is not the only ruling that a public official cannot block criticism on social media, it is the first to apply the concept to the president’s feed.

“No government official — including the president — is above the law,” Buchwald said.

Buchwald’s decision came in a case brought last year by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University on behalf of seven Twitter users who Trump blocked after they replied to his tweets.

Among them was Rebecca Buckwalter, who was blocked in June last year after responding to Trump’s tweet that he would have had “ZERO chance winning WH” if he had relied on the “Fake News.”

“To be fair you didn’t win the WH: Russia won it for you,” Buckwalter had replied.

Blocking detractors is more than just ignoring their comments, Buchwald said, adding that doing so limits their “right to speak in a discrete, measurable way.”

By blocking users, Trump prevented them from speaking to others on the reply thread, not just to him, the judge said.

“This case requires us to consider whether a public official may, consistent with the First Amendment, block a person from his Twitter account in response to the political views that person has expressed, and whether the analysis differs because that public official is the president,” she said. “The answer to both questions is no.”

The US Department of Justice said in a statement that it “respectfully” disagrees with the ruling and is considering how to proceed.

The judge declined to order Trump to unblock users, saying her decision should be sufficient to force a change in behavior.

Twitter, which was not a party to the lawsuit, declined to comment.

“The essence of this ruling is that viewpoint discrimination is prohibited,” Calvert said. “Trump’s personal Twitter account has become a public forum and this court concluded that he cannot block those who disagree with him and only allow those who agree with him.”

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