Release the Tweets: Trump Pressed to Unblock Critics

by: The Knowledge Group

September 19, 2018


President Trump recently unblocked dozens of people on Twitter, allowing them renewed access to the Trump tweet stream. The accounts reportedly include those of filmmakers, writers, and others known to have posted critical comments about the president.

Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute pressed the Department of Justice in August to unblock numerous Twitter accounts that the president had blocked. The Institute sent a letter quoting a court’s declaration that deems the Trump Twitter stream a public forum.

More than 50 million people follow Trump’s Twitter feed throughout the world, and a federal judge already ruled in May 2018 that all U.S. account holders have a right to freely respond to Trump’s messages.

Viewpoint Discrimination Called Out

Ignoring other people’s tweets is fine, but, pursuant to the First Amendment, a president is not free to actively stop them from commenting in the stream, wrote Naomi Reice Buchwald, a U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of New York, in May. Blocking people who comment critically on the president’s tweets, Buchwald stated, is viewpoint discrimination.

The Knight First Amendment Institute sued Donald Trump and White House social media director Daniel Scavino, on behalf of seven plaintiffs blocked from the @realDonaldTrump account because of opinions they expressed in reply tweets. In a declaratory judgment, Judge Buchwald decided that blocking someone on Twitter crossed a line. The judge added that “we must assume that the President and Scavino will remedy” the blocking actions made by the president’s account.

A Significant Pronouncement

Judge Buchwald’s pronouncement is a significant statement on free speech rights and emerging social media standards for a president in the online sphere. The Trump Twitter account’s followers number in the tens of millions. Twitter is a key element of the current presidency, and often a controversial one. The president has employed the platform to announce policies, denounce critics, and rally followers.

The Department of Justice opposes Judge Buchwald’s decision, insisting the Trump Twitter stream “belongs to Donald Trump in his personal capacity” and is not a public forum.

The conversation about presidential Twitter blocking continues… on Twitter.


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