One of the things that has plagued America — besides Donald Trump himself — is the POTUS’ Twitter usage. Every day, Trump’s Twitter account serves as an endless amount of humiliation and chaos for a country that was once well-respected around the world. While Trump has proven to his staff (and the country) that he cannot be controlled on social media, a federal court may have just ruled that there are some things he just CANNOT do on Twitter.
One of Trump’s most disturbing behaviors lies in his tendency to block people on Twitter just because they disagree with him. Currently, Trump is being sued by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University for blocking people just because they expressed criticism. Thanks to a federal court ruling that happened this week, Trump may not be able to do that anymore.
This week, a federal court ruled on a case very similar to Trump’s, in which the chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Phyllis J. Randall, had been blocking constituents on her public Facebook page. In the case Davison v. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Randall wrote on her county Facebook page, “I really want to hear from ANY Loudoun citizen on ANY issues, request, criticism, compliment, or just your thoughts.” When Brian C. Davidson took her up on her offer, bringing up the alleged corruption in the county’s school board, Randall responded by deleting his comment and blocking him. The following morning, Randall unblocked Davidson but he was not able to comment on her page or send her messages. Davidson argued that this was a violation of his freedom of speech, and a federal court ruled in his favor.
U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris ruled that this was a violation of the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause because Randall was “offended by his criticism of her colleagues in the County government”, which he regarded as unconstitutional “viewpoint discrimination” — pretty much what Trump does on Twitter. Cacheris explained:
Defendant’s offense at Plaintiff’s views was therefore an illegitimate basis for her actions—particularly given that Plaintiff earned Defendant’s ire by criticizing the County government. Indeed, the suppression of critical commentary regarding elected officials is the quintessential form of viewpoint discrimination against which the First Amendment guards. By prohibiting Plaintiff from participating in her online forum because she took offense at his claim that her colleagues in the County government had acted unethically, Defendant committed a cardinal sin under the First Amendment.
This certainly has implications to what might happen with Trump’s own Twitter account. While Trump might try to argue that his personal Twitter page — separate from the @POTUS presidential account — is not intended to function as a public forum, it’s obvious that Trump uses it to make presidential announcements. Members of his own team, such as former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, have even stated that Trump’s tweets are “official statements” — which means this account should be subjected to the same rules as Randall’s public Facebook page was.
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