Federal Judge Rules: Way Trump Uses Twitter Is Illegal
by George Upper
There’s been a lot of theorizing about the effect of social media on the 2016 presidential election, most of it — in the establishment media, anyway — focused on how
Donald Trump’s campaign, with or without the help of the Russians, “stole” the election from Hillary Clinton by selectively planting “fake news” on Facebook.
But Trump’s social media advantage during the campaign was never on Facebook; it was always on Twitter, from his announcement through the election and inauguration.
And, while it wasn’t obvious at the time, that’s when swamp water began seeping into Trump’s online presence, with the ultimate result being that federal judge ruled Wednesday that President Donald Trump cannot block users from access to his Twitter account without violating the First Amendment to the Constitution after seven plaintiffs — we don’t have their names, but I’m guessing they don’t hail from right-of-center heartland America — sued over the practice.
The judge ruled that, because blocking accounts that disagree with him on Twitter prevents those users from expressing their disagreement with him on what was essentially a public forum amounted to government suppression of their right to free speech, according to The New York Times.
Now, given the circumstances, the judge could hardly have decided anything differently. It’s not the judge in the wrong here; it’s the circumstances surrounding the
Essentially, Federal District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that, because Trump and Dan Scavino, the White House social media director, “exert governmental control over certain aspects of the @realDonaldTrump account,” the account is an official government account and blocking the seven plaintiffs from it because of their political views violated their First Amendment rights.
Again, that’s true. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that this should never have been an “official government account” in the first place.
Donald Trump — with the help of media experts in his employ, one would imagine — built his following on Twitter long before he ever ran for office, and he continued to build it — and expertly so — during his campaign. If the account had remained under his personal control, he could block or not block anyone he chose.
But that’s not what happened.
“The viewpoint-based exclusion of the individual plaintiffs from that designated public forum is proscribed by the First Amendment and cannot be justified by the president’s personal First Amendment interests,” the judge, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1999, wrote in her decision. The White House is apparently considering an appeal, although the basis for such an action was not mentioned and remains unclear, given the present circumstances.
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and are considering our next steps,” said the Justice Department, which is representing the president in the case.
‘The right thing for the president and his social media director to do would be to log into the president’s account and unblock everyone who has been blocked on the basis of viewpoint,” said Jameel Jaffer, the plaintiffs’ attorney and the executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute, which joined the case as a plaintiff itself.
The court, however, did not order the president to take such an action which would, on the face of it, appear to mean that any government employee or elected official with a social media account funded with taxpayer money would have to take the same action or face similar lawsuits. Again, since White House staffers became involved, free speech is a legitimate issue in this case. But was it really necessary for that to happen? Isn’t the president’s Twitter account really that, a personal account?
And the president should be able to communicate directly with the American people without the intervention of federal bureaucrats. Shouldn’t he?