US Judge to Donald Trump: 'You Can't Block Twitter Users'


District judge Naomi Buchwald ruled [PDF] that Trump's blocking of critics from his Twitter account @realDonaldTrump is illegal since it is "properly characterized as a designated public forum" given his public position.

Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of the Southern District of NY agreed with the Knight Institute that Trump's Twitter account is a public forum, which means the First Amendment prevents public officials from restricting access based on people's viewpoints.

On Wednesday, a judge in NY described the president's Twitter account as a public forum, and said blocking Twitter users for their views violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Judge Buchwald said that the answer to both the questions was no.

"We're pleased with the court's decision", said Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute's executive director.

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The seven users had each tweeted a message critical of the president before they were blocked.

"Because a Twitter user lacks control over the comment thread beyond the control exercised over first-order replies through blocking, the comment threads - as distinguished from the content of tweets sent by @realDonaldTrump, the @realDonaldTrump timeline, and the interactive space associated with each tweet - do not meet the threshold criterion for being a forum", the judge argues. He had already amassed 20.5 million followers and had posted 34,300 tweets before he took office in January 2017.

These claimants can not view Trumps tweets, reply to them or see the comments thread underneath them.

In the past week, he has repeatedly claimed in multiple tweets that the Justice Department put a "spy" inside his presidential campaign to frame him for "crimes he didn't commit" amid mounting questions over his campaign's possible collusion with Russian Federation.

The White House has not commented on the case, and the Justice Department is reviewing its options, which could include an appeal.

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It's unclear if Mr Trump will now unblock his critics, but the judge hinted the president could face legal action if he did not comply with the ruling.

She also rejected the suggestion that since Twitter is a private company it is beyond the reach of First Amendment forum rules. As Twitter favors verified users on the platform, while often shadowbanning conservative accounts, liberal and left-leaning responses to the President often appear at the top of his replies. A city government can't say that only Republicans, Christians, or vegetarians are allowed to hold rallies in the town square, and it can't blacklist activists with a history of criticizing the mayor.

The lawsuit against Mr Trump and other White House officials stems from his decision to bar several online critics.

One of the people that Mr Trump blocked, Holly O'Reilly, who uses the account @AynRandPaulRyan, was blocked last May after posting a GIF of Mr Trump meeting with Pope Francis.

What about the fact that you can still see all of Trump's tweets and responses if you simply log out of your account?

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"Muting equally vindicates the president's right to ignore certain speakers and to selectively amplify the voices of certain others but - unlike blocking - does so without restricting the right of the ignored to speak", Buchwald said.