New York – By blocking users on Twitter, President Donald Trump has violated the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.
The lawsuit was brought by seven Twitter users — including a Texas police officer, a New York comedy writer and a Nashville, Tennessee, surgeon — who claimed that Trump’s Twitter feed was an official government account and that preventing users from following it was unconstitutional.
In her ruling, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote that the plaintiffs who sought to view and engage with Trump’s tweets alongside those who were not restricted were “protected by the First Amendment”. The judge, though, did not require the president or Twitter to unblock anyone.
The number of users blocked from the president’s account @realDonaldTrump, which has more than 52 million followers, is known only to Trump, to those who have access to his account and to Twitter.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Twitter said that the company would not comment on the ruling, and stressed that Twitter was not a party to the lawsuit on either side.
The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which joined the plaintiffs in the suit, posted personal statements from some of them on its website, including one from Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, a legal analyst from Washington.
On Wednesday, Buckwalter-Poza posted: “I sued the President, and I won.”
Here’s what six other Twitter users who were not part of the lawsuit had to say about their experience of being blocked by the president, and what this ruling means to them.
— ‘An introvert’s protest’
When Dani Bostick, a 40-year-old schoolteacher and Army wife from Winchester, Virginia, discovered Twitter, she felt it was a great opportunity to have her voice heard. As a self-described introvert who isn’t fond of crowds, she liked the idea of being able to express her dissent on social media. “This is genius,” she remembered thinking.
After months of enjoying the “exchange of ideas” in replies to the president’s tweets, she was blocked in July 2017 for suggesting that Trump not use the platform to boast about his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. She felt he was profiting from his position.
Getting blocked made her feel muzzled and disenfranchised, she said. She had noticed many others getting barred, those she’d previously conversed with, but she never thought it would happen to her because she said she never made insulting comments. She later noticed that users who had targeted her with violent threats were still commenting on the president’s posts. “This was viewpoint discrimination, an injustice and a violation of my rights,” she said.
The verdict Wednesday was “incredibly vindicating,” she said. “It shows that it wasn’t just a wacky perspective that I had.”
— ‘Every tweet — in which we protest Trump’s abuses of his office — is important’
Anne Rice, a 76-year-old author most famous for her series “The Vampire Chronicles,” has long been a vocal critic of the president and was blocked years ago, she said Wednesday.
While she couldn’t remember the exact tweet that caused her to be barred, “it certainly was not abusive,” she said.
Being blocked has been a nuisance, she said. “I have to look up Trump’s tweets every day to see what the national discussion is about,” she said. She called his proclivity unfair, “considering how widely he has used Twitter for policy.”
With this ruling, she hopes to be unblocked. “Every tweet — in which we protest Trump’s abuses of his office — is important,” she said. “If we can respond to Trump’s own tweets directly, we can reach some of his ‘base.’”
— ‘What he’s done is create an echo chamber’
William LeGate, a 23-year-old tech entrepreneur living in Los Angeles, started interacting with Trump’s tweets in January 2017, and quickly grew fond of replying to the president and others in the forum beneath Trump’s posts.
When he was blocked six months later for suggesting the president had a crush on Hillary Clinton, he had a “feeling of disbelief that the person with the highest authority in the land is censoring.”
“That’s the primary method he communicates official government information,” he said. “His tweets are official statements.”
LeGate, who’s now the digital director for a congressional campaign, said the issue of the president’s blocking users is not superficial. “What he’s done is create an echo chamber, and it makes it seem that public opinion of him is much better than it is,” LeGate said. “Once he started blocking people, it changed the perception.”
— ‘It was kind of a joke, at first’
Norma Kwée, a 33-year-old from Los Angeles who works in the technology sector, was confused as to why she was blocked by Trump in June 2016 because she had never, at that point, tweeted anything political, nor had she commented on the president’s tweets.
She combed through her posts to see what may have irritated him, but found nothing, Kwée said Wednesday. Maybe it was because she was gay, or maybe it was because she worked in tech, she had wondered. Maybe an automated bot did the culling? She never found out why.
“It was kind of a joke, at first, almost like an honor that someone way more powerful than me would take the time,” she said.
But now that he’s become the president, “I find it frustrating,” she said. Instead of using a roundabout way to see his tweets, “I would like to be able to verify these things myself,” she said.
As for the ruling, “I can’t imagine that this will be an instant change,” but she hopes it will help clarify what’s acceptable on social media.
— ‘He didn’t want other people to see what I was writing’
When Caroline Orr, a 32-year-old researcher from Richmond, Virginia, tweeted that she had been blocked, it resonated with thousands of people on the platform.
She wrote: “Trump blocked me today for 1 (or both) of these threads. It’d be a shame if anyone RTd them.”
More that 20 000 people did.
Orr thinks the president barred her because “he didn’t want other people to see what I was writing.” His effort backfired, she said.
As for her interactions with his tweets: “I think it struck a chord with him and he realised that he couldn’t redefine reality for his supporters until he got his most effective critics out of the way,” she said. “I think it’s dangerous to let Trump’s false claims and lies go unanswered.”
The New York Times