It is unconstitutional for public officials, including the president, to block Twitter followers who criticize them, a court ruled today in a legal dispute over President Trump’s account.
The lawsuit, brought by Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, argued that Twitter users blocked by @realdonaldtrump had their First Amendment rights violated. In a decision posted today, a court hearing the case ruled that Twitter’s “interactive space,” where users can interact with Trump’s tweets, qualifies as a public forum, and that blocking users unconstitutionally restricts their speech. The decision rejected arguments from the president’s team that President Trump’s own First Amendment rights would be violated if he could not block users.
The court, while not going so far as to enter an order against the president and social media director Dan Scavino specifically, ruled more generally that public officials violated users’ rights when blocking them on the platform. The decision says that “no government official — including the President — is above the law, and all government officials are presumed to follow the law as has been declared.”
Notably, the decision distinguished between Twitter’s block and mute functions, and the judge found the argument that Trump violated the First Amendment by using either function “unpersuasive.” Users can still reply to tweets after they’ve been muted, even if those replies are never seen, the ruling pointed out. The judge hinted at that line of reasoning in March.
The lawsuit, first filed last year, has been a closely watched test of First Amendment rights in the digital age, and one that took on a special relevance, as it was focused on the president’s preferred megaphone.