Trump sued for blocking Twitter users

President Donald J. Trump speaks with Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other senior leaders of the armed forces at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Jan. 27, 2017. (DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)

Since the time President Donald Trump first took office nearly six months ago, has been hit with more than 100 lawsuits involving issues of refugee and immigrant rights.

A group of Twitter users blocked by President Donald Trump filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday claiming the White House is violating the constitution by keeping them out of a “public forum.”

The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, comes a month after the group sent a letter to the president and several aides, asking that two of their clients be unblocked. The group said the White House did not respond.

The complaint alleges that by blocking Twitter users based on their viewpoints, the president is keeping them out of online dialogue on current events, in violation of their free-speech rights in the US constitution’s First Amendment.

The blocking, the lawsuit said, “imposes an unconstitutional restriction on their participation in a designated public forum” and aims “to suppress dissent in this forum.”

The group sued on behalf of seven Twitter users, including a police officer, sociology professor, surgery resident and songwriter. Few complained about being blocked in early June

The president has more than 33 million followers on his @realDonaldTrump Twitter feed and has tweeted more than 35,000 times since first starting the account in 2009. The account has become a method for Americans to keep up with public policy issues, as well as monitor Trump’s mood swings over media coverage of his administration.

Trump on July 2 had tweeted: “My use of social media is not Presidential — it’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL.” It also quoted Spicer saying a month earlier at a press conference that Trump’s tweets should be understood as “official statements of the president of the United States.”

“President Trump’s Twitter account has become an important source of news and information about the government and an important forum for speech by, to, or about the president,” said Jameel Jaffer, the institute’s executive director. “The First Amendment applies to this digital forum in the same way it applies to town halls and open school board meetings. The White House acts unlawfully when it excludes people from this forum simply because they’ve disagreed with the president.”

In the lawsuit, the Knight Institute says that even the president’s advisers have called Trump’s 140-character missives “official statements.” As such, it says the Twitter feed is a “public forum” from which people cannot be excluded based on their views, nor can other users be denied their right to hear critical voices.

Additionally, the lawsuit contends that the White House violates the rights of those who have not been blocked by purging critical voices from the social media forum.

“The White House is transforming a public forum into an echo chamber,” said Katie Fallow, a senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute. “Its actions violate the rights of the people who’ve been blocked and the rights of those who haven’t been blocked but who now participate in a forum that’s being sanitized of dissent.”

Those blocked from a Twitter account cannot read tweets, respond to them directly, or contribute to the comment threads.

After the lawsuit was filed, Jaffer released a statement saying, “The First Amendment applies to this digital forum in the same way it applies to town halls and open school board meetings. The White House acts unlawfully when it excludes people from this forum simply because they’ve disagreed with the president.”

The Supreme Court ruled last month that social networking websites have become such an important source of information that even sex offenders be allowed to access social media sites such as Facebook, Snapchat and LinkedIn. During oral arguments, Justice Elena Kagan cited Trump’s tweets as an example of newsworthy information.


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