President Trump loves his Twitter. He has become infamous for his off-hours tweets launching attacks at perceived enemies or self-righteous rants.
Now it seems he is in violation of the First Amendment for the way he uses his account. NBC News reports:
The Knight First Amendment Institute, a non-profit under the Knight Foundation and Columbia University, represents several Twitter users who have been blocked from accessing @realDonaldTrump after they wrote unflattering statements about the president.
The letter to Trump says his “Twitter account operates as a ‘designated public forum’ for First Amendment purposes, and accordingly the viewpoint-based blocking of our clients is unconstitutional.”
Attorneys for the suit say that the president uses Twitter to engage in policy-based discourse and therefore his @realDonaldTrump account is a public forum. Under the “public forum doctrine,” banning users for content or opinion-based discussion violates the amendment.
In a press conference, Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently defended the president’s Twitter use, saying,
“The president is president of the United States,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, “so they are considered official statements by the president of the United States.”
The claim itself is vague since there has not been a precedent set for social media use in this manner but the basics of the argument are there.
One question the suit posits is the privately owned forum subject to the same protections as a public forum.
“The interesting thing about this argument is that a private host, Twitter, is being likened to a public space,” said Morgan Weiland, an attorney and scholar at Stanford University Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.
The space in question is virtual, but since the president has chosen Twitter as a venue to announce and discuss policy, by blocking users, he is restricting their access to information. Furthermore, by blocking them, he has limited their ability to protest or engage in discourse.
As with any protest, the government can choose to ignore the message, but it cannot block the expression. Defenders may ask, “what about obscene or hurtful remarks?” Here the Supreme Court has weighed in, determining that obscenities are not a violation as “one man’s profanity is another man’s lyric.” Also, hurtful or hateful speech is not illegal so long as there are no threats of violence toward the president.
The good news for the rest of us is, our Twitter accounts are personal and protected. Had Trump not used his account but rather @POTUS for his policy-based tweets, it is conceivable that his @realDonaldTrump would have also remained “private” communication.