Jul 9, 2019 - Technology

Court rules Trump can't block Twitter followers

Photo: NurPhoto / Contributor/Getty Images

A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that President Trump violated the Constitution in blocking critics of his viewpoints on Twitter.

Why it matters: This is a huge win for free speech advocates. The ruling sets a precedent that any elected official — from a local mayor to the president — who blocks a constituent on Twitter could be found guilty of violating that constituent's First Amendment rights.

Details: Tuesday's decision by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York aligns with an earlier decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia that ruled government officials can't block constituents on social media accounts that they use for official business, based on its interpretation of the First Amendment.

  • In its ruling, the 2nd Circuit held that: "The First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees."

Between the lines: The White House had appealed the district court case on the grounds that the president was using the @realDonaldTrump Twitter handle, not his official @POTUS45 government handle, and thus the president has the right to block whomever he wants. The 2nd Circuit panel rejected that argument.

  • "President Trump established his account, with the handle @realDonaldTrump, (the “Account”) in March 2009," the ruling reads.
  • "No one disputes that before he became President the Account was a purely private one or that once he leaves office the Account will presumably revert to its private status. This litigation concerns what the Account is now ... The public presentation of the Account and the webpage associated with it bear all the trappings of an official, state‐run account."

The big picture: President Trump's consistent attacks on the press and access to information, mostly on social media, have forced judges to re-evaluate the rules of political communications in the digital era.

Go deeper: Trump's unexpected 1st Amendment legacy

Editor’s note: This post has been corrected to show that the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling aligns with an earlier ruling by 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on whether public officials could block critics from social media accounts (the 2nd Circuit did not uphold the 4th Circuit's ruling).

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