There’s a reason the First Amendment is the very first one, it’s the cornerstone of our nation’s belief system, regardless of which side of the aisle you’re on. The First Amendment is what allows so many opinions to exist and flourish (here at PROOF we get a little patriotic just thinking about it). These days, there are two things that annoy people when it comes to freedom of speech, however: people who have opposing or polarizing views from our own, and the way social media allows people to say whatever they want under the protective guise of privacy or anonymity. As a result, allow us to introduce the perfect storm of a lawsuit, featuring free speech, social media, and the President of the United States.
President Trump, his Press Secretary Sean Spicer and his Director of Social Media, Dan Scavino, are currently being sued by seven Twitter users who claim that they have been blocked by the President’s Twitter account and as a result, their freedom of speech is being infringed upon. The plaintiffs are alleging that they were blocked after posting tweets that criticized the current administration.
On behalf of the seven plaintiffs, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sent the President a letter explaining the reason for the lawsuit: “We write on behalf of individuals who have been blocked from your most-followed Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, because they disagreed with, criticized, or mocked you or your actions as President. This Twitter account operates as a “designated public forum” for First Amendment purposes, and accordingly the viewpoint-based blocking of our clients is unconstitutional… Blocking users from your Twitter account violates the First Amendment. When the government makes a space available to the public at large for the purpose of expressive activity, it creates a public forum from which it may not constitutionally exclude individuals on the basis of viewpoint. This is true even if the space in question is ‘metaphysical’ rather than physical.”
President Trump did not respond to the letter from the Knight First Amendment Institute, though he and his staff have consistently maintained that his Tweets should be considered official White House statements. A past ruling (Davison v. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors et al) has already declared that public social media accounts may not “suppress public comment,” lest they “run afoul of the First Amendment.” While on its face that case seems to help plaintiffs, Davison may not be applicable precedent in that there is an argument that twitter blocking is not really a matter of free speech at all, rather, it is a private business decision and is up to Twitter itself, which allows blocking in the first place and sets the terms of agreement for all of its users. Twitter has not yet weighed in on the suit. One thing is for sure though, if this case is allowed to go forward (there are questions of presidential immunity), @realDonaldTrump may have to think before he taps that block button.
To read the complaint filed in this matter click here. It’s super easy to read and full of great information about the plaintiffs, who, for the most part, are just regular folks and include a doctor, a police officer, and a former professional cyclist.