By Miriam Raftery
July 12, 2017 (Washington D.C.) – Is Twitter a public forum? The Knight First Amendment Institution says yes—and has filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump and White House officials seeking to halt the President from blocking Twitter users with whom he disagrees.
The free speech advocates are representing several Twitter users, including a writer, a political organizer and a comedian, among others.
The suit contends that their First Amendment free rights were violated, as well as their rights to petition the government for redress of grievances.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer has previously said the President’s tweets are official statements on both his private and official White House Twitter accounts. The Knight First Amendment Institution likens the accounts to town halls and other public meetings, where public comments cannot be excluded simply because they offer dissenting views.
The Knight First Amendment Group, which is a nonprofit affiliated with Columbia University, previously sent a letter to Trump, his attorney, press secretary and social media director asking that the blocked Twitter users be unblocked.
Now the group seeks a court order to do so.
A similar case was filed against the County of San Diego in 2014, after Sheriff Bill Gore’s department took down offensive posts off the Sheriff’s Facebook page. The poster, a local gun shop owner, sued and claimed his Constitutional free speeches were violated. The Sheriff took down his own Facebook account rather than subject the County to costly litigation, and eventually paid $20 to settle the suit.
Some attorneys have argued that public officials should have the right to request that comments remain respectful, while allowing dissenting views—a common rule in other public forms. Others believe that any restrictions on content violate protected liberties.
The case against Trump may well determine whether or not public officials’ social media accounts are personal or public—and just who has the right to determine what should and shouldn’t be posted there.