Da trumpeter has now begun blocking people who disagree with him or criticize him from his Twitter account @realDonaldTrump. This has Constitutional law scholars pondering and debating the constitutionality of such a move.
Although he has likely blocked others, The Washington Post reported this morning on two specific individuals who were blocked:
Holly O’Reilly tweeted a GIF at the end of May to President Trump on his @realDonaldTrump account. The image displayed an awkward-looking moment between the president and Pope Francis with the caption, “This is pretty much how the whole world sees you.”
Joe Papp had a similar experience about a week later, when he tweeted a question to Trump. “Why didn’t you attend your #PittsburghNotParis rally in DC, Sir?” he asked, adding “#fakeleader.”
Both were blocked from Trump’s account within minutes of sending their tweets. Once blocked, they were neither able to see his tweets nor any related comments. Now, you may wonder what the big deal is. Well, Twitter is, for the most part, the only source Trump uses to communicate to the public. I personally do not follow his Twitter account, but have been known to dash off a 140-character tweet to him on occasion. I have sent him links to some of my posts, and critiqued some of his more absurd statements and actions. As a citizen, taxpayer, and voter, that is my right. I call it 1st Amendment right to free speech.
To add fuel to the fire, just yesterday White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that Trump’s tweets are “considered official statements by the president of the United States.” Spicer is an authorized representative in speaking on behalf of Donald Trump. And We The People have the right to hear (read) what the person we elected is saying about issues that concern us and our lives. So …. Is it a matter of constitutionality or not?
Most legal scholars agree that it would be a tough case to make, mainly because @realDonaldTrump is Trump’s personal account, not the official @POTUS account. In fact, he posts only a small portion of his tweets on the official account which, it appears, is actually managed by his staff.
Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sent a letter to Trump reading, in part …
“Your account constitutes a designated public forum. It is a forum for expression in which you share information and opinions relating to government policy with the public at large and in which members of the public can engage you, engage one another, and sometimes elicit responses from you. Your Twitter account is a designated public forum for essentially the same reasons that open city council meetings and school board meetings are.”
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh views both sides of the issue, saying …
“On the one hand, my sense is that the @RealDonaldTrump account — though run by Trump on government time and from government property — is the work of Trump-the-man … just as it was before November, and not Trump-the-president. His decisions about that account are therefore not constrained by the First Amendment. [But] what if I’m mistaken, and it’s viewed as run by Trump in his capacity as a government actor, and thus subject to the First Amendment? Can he then block users?”
Okay, so it’s a thorny issue and not one that is likely to be pursued at length based on Trump’s blocking of a handful of citizens. But it is not without relevance and I think needs to be monitored. My take is that no user who chooses to view his account should be blocked. My reasoning is simple … it is his main venue for communicating public policy. Just this morning we found out that he has nominated Christopher Wray for the position of FBI director. He did not hold a press conference to announce this decision, he tweeted it from his ‘personal’ account, @realDonaldTrump.
If he wishes to retain the right to block people from his personal account, then he must use it as a personal account, not a public forum. He has access to the official public forum Twitter account, and that is the appropriate place for him to make public announcements. It is rather a shame that the press and citizens must get their information from a Twitter account at any rate, but to have information withheld because we do not agree with him is a disgrace. Either his account is a public forum, in which case he cannot block a single user, or it is private, in which case he must learn the meaning of the word ‘private’.
Interestingly, the @POTUS account has only 18.6 million followers, while his @realDonaldTrump account has 31.5 million … more than 10% of the entire population of the country! As I said, I refuse to become a ‘follower’, but nearly every journalist in the country is … they have to be, as that is the only forum from which they can get information directly from him. And what happens if he decides to start blocking reporters from his account? Then it becomes, I think, a very slippery slope indeed. This is not a major issue, but it is one more straw on the camel’s back, one more instance of Trump vs. We The People.