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US President Trump Cannot Legally Block Followers On Twitter, Rules US Judge

25 May 2018, 11:26 | Franklin Nunez

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Today, however, a Federal judge ruled that blocking anyone from accessing the president's Twitter feed is a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The judge acknowledged that even though the president has certain free speech rights, he can not violate the rights of other Twitter users.

Eugene Volokh, a University of California Los Angeles School of Law professor who specializes in First Amendment issues, said the decision's effect would reach beyond Trump.

In other words, because Trump and his social media team are not in a position to control subsequent discussion of any tweets in the comment threads, then by blocking citizens from being a part of that public discussion they are limited their free speech rights. "Anyone with a Twitter account who has not been blocked may participate in the interactive space by replying or retweeting the president's tweets", she writes.

US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that such viewpoint-based exclusion is "impermissible under the First Amendment".

The seven users had each tweeted a message critical of the president before they were blocked. Among them was Rebecca Buckwalter, a writer and political consultant who was blocked in June after responding to Trump's tweet that he would have had "ZERO chance winning WH" if he had relied on the "Fake News".

- Can you sue the President of the United States and win? Instead, doing so limits their "right to speak in a discrete, measurable way".

During a hearing this year, she suggested that Mr. Trump could "mute" offending accounts so he wouldn't have to hear from them, but they could still interact with others beneath his tweets - a compromise that doesn't appear to have gained traction with the president.

The case was brought by aggrieved members of "Verified Liberal Twitter", a bottom-feeding group of Twitter users that cultivates likes, retweets, and followers on the platform by piggybacking on the President's tweets.

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Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of the US District Court for the Southern District of NY sided with the argument made by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University that the president's Twitter feed constitutes a "designated public forum", and that Trump therefore can't block users based on their political views.

"The answer to both questions is no", Buchwald said in her 75-page judgement.

The U.S. Department of Justice had argued that the president and other public officials should be allowed to block people they see as irritants online in order to protect themselves.

Twitter, which wasn't a party to the lawsuit, declined to comment.

Judge Buchwald said that proved he was engaging in viewpoint discrimination.

The US Department of Justice, which represents the president in the case, said it disagreed with the ruling and is considering the next steps.

Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute's executive director, said in a release that his organization was pleased with the court's decision.

"The more important social media becomes to the public discourse, the more important it becomes to defend First Amendment rights on social media", DeCell said. "The court says this is a designated public forum and the general presumption is everyone can enter. If all goes well, Hollywood will immortalize him as an evildoer who got his comeuppance".



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