The Knight First Amendment Institute has written Donald Trump to say he should unblock people he’s blocked from following him on Twitter because they’d criticized him. It threatens legal action on First Amendment grounds.
The President’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, is a “designated public forum” subject to the First Amendment, according to the Knight Institute. The First Amendment bars the government from excluding individuals from a designated public forum because of their views. The Knight Institute asked the President to unblock its clients, or to direct his subordinates to do so.
This is an issue that potentially reaches far Donald Trump. It’s not an issue readily answered, with court challenges ahead to more firmly establish whether Knight is right. But many Arkansas politicians who use their Twitter and Facebook accounts to distribute messages related to their public jobs block people that annoy them.
Sen. Jason Rapert is among the best known. But he is by no means alone. I’ve been blocked by, among others, Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood (who uses her Twitter account often to talk about judicial matters); University of Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long (who insisted in a personal letter he had not blocked me, perhaps not realizing @ArkansasBlog and I are one in the same); state Sens. Missy Irvin and Linda Collins-Smith; state Insurance Department flack K. Ryan James (who didn’t take kindly to snark about his many publicly financed junkets) and Mike Huckabee. Since Huckabee is no longer a public official, I suspect he’s free from any legal consequences.
The Knight commentary suggests the public officials have infringed my constitutional rights.
Public officials at every level now use social media as a means of political communication. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan recently observed that Twitter’s users now include “all 50 governors, all 100 senators, and every member of the House.” As it becomes commonplace for public officials to use social media for constituent communication, and Twitter and other platforms move to center stage in modern democracy, the courts will be called upon to decide the new contours of First Amendment protection.
“When new communications platforms are developed, core First Amendment principles cannot be left behind,” said Katie Fallow, a senior litigator at the Knight Institute. “The First Amendment disallows the President from blocking critics on Twitter just as it disallows mayors from ejecting critics from town halls.”
“Though the architects of the Constitution surely didn’t contemplate presidential Twitter accounts, they understood that the President must not be allowed to banish views from public discourse simply because he finds them objectionable. Having opened this forum to all comers, the President can’t exclude people from it merely because he dislikes what they’re saying.”
I’m not racing to the courthouse. Yet. For one thing, while it is a bit bothersome, there are many ways around Twitter blockades particularly. For example, Rhonda’s latest:
Great time visiting with Girls State pic.twitter.com/yN0yj4OMNL
— JusticeRhondaWood (@JudgeRhondaWood) June 2, 2017
Missy Irvin’s latest cheers the Florida Gators, so forget that. Linda Collins-Smith in recent hours has been prompted to re-Tweet Sarah Palin (on Kathy Griffin’s fall from grace).
— Linda Collins-Smith (@Linda4Senate) June 5, 2017