Donald Trump cannot block, but he can mute, Twitter users, says judge

David Ake

Trump's tweeting keeps getting him into trouble in court, and on Wednesday it happened again, when U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that no, he can't block people on Twitter for criticizing him.

She says that because Twitter essentially acts as a "public forum" (the 21st-century equivalent of a town hall meeting), by blocking Twitter users, Trump is shutting down their free speech. She said she assumed Trump's social media director Dan Scavino would unblock the users in light of her decision.

The case was brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and seven Twitter users whose accounts had been blocked. Or they can mute the person, which keeps the user from seeing that person's tweets and reply messages in their feed.

A Twitter feed is more than one person's opinions because others can reply to tweets, and those replies are available for anyone to see.

President Trump and the other defendants conceded they did so because they disliked the viewpoints the plaintiffs expressed in their tweets.

The US Department of Justice, however, disagreed with the court ruling.

The court ruled that the people have a right to participate in a "public forum", which applies to social media.

In her ruling, the district judge said that President Trump's position mean that Twitter should be "properly characterized as a designated public forum".

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Twitter, which wasn't a party to the lawsuit, declined to comment.

Cohen, who was blocked from Trump's account last June after posting an image of the president with words "Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian", said he was "delighted" with Wednesday's decision. "If all goes well, Hollywood will immortalize him as an evildoer who got his comeuppance".

She also rejected the suggestion that since Twitter is a private company it is beyond the reach of First Amendment forum rules. In July, a federal court in Virginia said the chair of a county board of supervisors had violated the First Amendment rights of a constituent by blocking him from the county's Facebook page. The Trump administration has not decided yet whether Trump will unblock his critics on Twitter as directed by Buchwald or whether it will appeal the ruling, the New York Times reported.

It is not clear how many people Mr. Trump has blocked, but online tallies list some of the names: author Stephen King, anti-Trump activist Holly Figueroa O'Reilly and Daily Kos editor Rebecca Pilar Buckwalter Poza, who was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

And because of Trump's actions, the court concludes that the use of the account "is governmental in nature".

"If Twitter exercised control over blocking, the finding of government control would be undermined", Eric Easton, the faculty director at the University of Baltimore's School of Law's LL.M. program, told Observer."It's not really a legal question, but a policy question for them on whether they do that".

The Knight Institute hopes that the ruling against Trump will set a precedent for other public officials across the country.

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