I block people from my Twitter account all the time. But I’m not President of the United States.
Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute sent a letter to Donald Trump yesterday asking him to unblock users whom he appears to have blocked due to criticism. KFAI contends that such social media blockage by an elected official is unconstitutional:
Blocking users from your Twitter account violates the First Amendment. When the government makes a space available to the public at large for the purpose of expressive activity, it creates a public forum from which it may not constitutionally exclude individuals on the basis of viewpoint. This is true even if the space in question is “metaphysical” rather than physical; even if the space is privately rather than publicly owned; and “even when the limited public forum is one of [the government’s] own creation.” The government may impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions in a designated public forum, but it may not exclude people simply because it disagrees with them.
Your @realDonaldTrump 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 [footnotes replaced with links; Knight First Amendment Institute, letter to Donald J. Trump, 2017.06.06].
Donald Trump is using his Twitter account to announce official decisions, policy, and events. As KFAI contends, he cannot exclude from that forum citizens who disagree with his decisions or policies or who criticize him in general any more than Dave Lunzman can ban me from Aberdeen City Council meetings or Kevin Burckhard can ban me from Aberdeen school board meetings just because they are unhappy with my criticism of their lack of openness.
But the analogy is imperfect. Blocking Twitter users does not stop users from reading or writing anything; it only complicates that reading and writing. As I tinker with my account, I find I can still mention users who have blocked me, like SDGOP chair Dan Lederman and his sycophant spin blogger Pat Powers. I can’t directly view or retweet their posts, but all I need to do to view their tweets is open up an incognito browser window. If I really want to retweet a post from a user who has blocked me, I just take a screenshot from the incognito… which is more durable, since the tweeter can delete his post but not my screenshot. The local analogy to Trump’s tweet blocks would be if Councilman-Elect Lunzman didn’t let me sit in the front row of seats at a city council meeting and made me click my heels three times before making any statement during public comment period. A government official blocking users from his official account may be censorship, but it’s an odd and weak form of censorship.
Justin Trudeau just kayaked up to my house and talked to my parents? classic pic.twitter.com/gktVekiTMZ
— carrie robinson (@carrierobinson_) June 5, 2017
I invite Donald Trump to comment on this blog post. I will still block Steve Sibson from this conversation. Elect me Governor, and I might let Sibby in.