A federal appeals court in New York has upheld a decision barring President Donald Trump from blocking critics from his personal Twitter account, arguing that he uses the platform for “official purposes.”
The president limiting public access to his Twitter account, which has amassed nearly 62 million followers, would be a violation of the First Amendment, the three-judge panel of the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled unanimously on Tuesday.
“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,” wrote Circuit Judge Barrington Parker in his opinion.
The case was first brought in 2017 by the Knight First Amendment Institute, on behalf of seven Twitter users who had been blocked by the president on the platform, and resulted in the May 2018 ruling that initially took away Trump’s “block” button. The White House appealed the decision, but the courts nonetheless ordered the president to unblock the accounts, which included that of Democrat organizer Holly Figueroa, journalist Rebecca Buckwalter of the ultra-progressive Daily Kos, and dedicated Trump troll Eugene Gu.
President Trump uses Twitter perhaps more than any other medium of communication, including official press conferences, earning him the nickname “Tweeter-in-Chief” in some quarters. However, he rarely uses the official presidential handle @POTUS to do so, preferring his personal one.
It is unclear if the White House or the Department of Justice will seek to appeal the matter further, including to the Supreme Court, or how the ruling might affect Twitter’s place in the world of politics. Lawmakers regularly make use of the platform’s “block” feature to avoid critics, but Tuesday’s decision raises questions about whether the rule could be extended to the accounts of other public officials.
In response to Monday’s ruling, YouTuber-turned-politician Joey Saladino, better known as “Joey Salads,” filed his own suit against freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, herself a prolific blocker.
“I have officially filed my lawsuit against AOC for blocking me on twitter,” Salads tweeted. “Trump is not allowed to block people, will the standards apply equally? Stay tuned to find out!”
I have officially filed my lawsuit against AOC for blocking me on twitter.
Trump is not allowed to block people, will the standards apply equally?
Stay tuned to find out! pic.twitter.com/0RmHI7x9Qc
— Saladino for Congress (@JoeySalads) July 9, 2019
The decision also comes as social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter step up efforts to police content and prohibit “hateful” messages on their platforms, the result of increasing pressure on the private companies to take on more “social responsibility.”
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