Donald Trump can't block people on Twitter, US court rules

Judge: President can't block Twitter critics

A U.S. federal court on Thursday ruled that President Donald Trump can not block his followers on Twitter as this violated the First Amendment.

The ruling, which was instituted by Columbia University in 2017, comes as debates are widening about how to bridge the gap between public officials' rights to privacy and citizens' rights to free speech and demand for accountability.

Turning to the merits of plaintiffs' First Amendment claim, we hold that the speech in which they seek to engage is protected by the First Amendment and that the President and Scavino exert governmental control over certain aspects of the @realDonaldTrump account, including the interactive space of the tweets sent from the account. She said the First Amendment protects people even from trivial harm.

Twitter is often the first communication channel Trump turns to when making major announcements. Figueroa called Trump the leaker and further responded with a GIF showing the pope seemingly losing the will to smile as he looks at Trump's face, saying, "This is pretty much how the whole world sees you".

The judge said Trump couldn't suppress such responses. Blocking detractors is more than just ignoring their comments, she said. In fact, the President and those suing him-the Knight Foundation and others- formally stipulated that as a result of his blocking decision, his critics "cannot view the President's tweets, directly reply to these tweets" or use his webpage "to view the common threads associated with his tweets".

But she stopped short of ordering Trump and his social media director, Dan Scavino, to unblock people.

Judge Buchwald, in a 75-page opinion, said the blocking of Trump's critics violated the free speech rights of those users guaranteed in the US Constitution's First Amendment.

"The answer to both questions is no".

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A Justice Department spokeswoman said "We respectfully disagree with the court's decision and are considering our next steps".

"We're pleased with the court's decision, which reflects a careful application of core First Amendment principles to government censorship on a new communications platform", Jaffer said in a prepared statement.

"Sometime in early June, I realized my Twitter feed turned into a series of gray boxes and outraged comments", said Buckwalter-Posa, a judicial affairs editor for the left-leaning Daily Kos.

The Justice Department said in an emailed statement that it would fight the ruling.

Buchwald argued against the defense that Trump's own First Amendment rights "supersede" those he blocked.

Genevieve Lakier, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School who helped write a friend-of-the-court brief filed by First Amendment scholars, welcomed Wednesday's decision.

Digital rights advocates applauded the ruling as a victory for First Amendment rights on social media. However, if you click on a Donald Trump tweet, you'll see a long list of replies to that tweet listed underneath.

Buchwald called Trump's social media feed a "designated public forum", and as such Trump can not exclude people from viewing or engaging with it-which is what happens when users are blocked. A city government can't say that only Republicans, Christians, or vegetarians are allowed to hold rallies in the town square, and it can't blacklist activists with a history of criticizing the mayor.

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