Donald Trump blocking people on Twitter unconstitutional, judge rules | News | DW | 24.05.2018
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Donald Trump blocking people on Twitter unconstitutional, judge rules

A US judge has ruled that US President Donald Trump cannot block people viewing his tweets. The judge found that blocking people from a designated "public forum" violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

US President Donald Trump cannot legally block people from viewing his Twitter account based on their political views, a New York judge ruled on Wednesday.

The First Amendment was filed against Trump by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, along with a handful of other Twitter users.

Read more: 'Don't retweet Donald Trump and don't use his language'

Trump's Twitter deemed a 'public forum'

US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald announced in the ruling that:

  • Trump's @realDonaldTrump Twitter account, where Twitter users can respond to the president's tweets, fell under the "public forum" doctrine as defines by the US Supreme Court.
  • Blocking users from expressing their political views at a designated public forum violated their right to free speech, as set out in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
  • The effect of the ruling reaches beyond Trump and will bar other government officials from also blocking users based on their political views.
  • Trump's own First Amendment rights did not allow him to block people with whom he did not wish to interact. The president's own personal rights cannot be exercised "in a way that infringes the corresponding First Amendment rights of those who have criticized him," Buchwald said.
  • Trump can, however, "mute" users, meaning he would not see their tweets while they could still respond to his.

Read more: Republicans rebuke Donald Trump over TV host facelift tweets

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Follow the Hashtag:#BlockedByTrump

Plaintiffs 'delighted' by ruling

Plaintiff Philip Cohen, a sociology professor, said he was "delighted" with the judge's ruling, adding "this increases my faith in the system a little." Cohen was blocked by Trump last summer after he posted a image of the president with the words "Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian."

The US Justice Department, which represented Trump in the case, said it "respectfully disagreed with the court's decision and are considering our next steps."

Twitter Inc. was not involved to the lawsuit and declined to comment.

Read more: Trump's erratic tweets pose risk for US firms

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Trump fires Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Twitter

Trump's tweets: Trump's use of Twitter has become both a central and controversial part of his presidency. The president has taken to his social network of choice to promote his agenda, announce policies and attack his critics and selected media outlets. With over 50 million followers, Trump is the world's most followed world leader. However, he only boasts half as many followers as his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Read more: Trump and his fame as an internet troll

The blocked: Along with Cohen, several other Twitter users have accused Trump of blocking them on Twitter. Among the plaintiffs were also Holly Figueroa, who was described in the complaint as a songwriter and political organizer in Washington state, and Brandon Neely, a Texas police officer.

Novelists Stephen King and Anne Rice, comedian Rosie O'Donnell, model Chrissy Teigen, actress Marina Sirtis and the military veterans action committee VoteVets.org have also come out and said on Twitter that Trump had blocked them.

No order to unblock users: Buchwald stopped short of ordering the president to unblock users, saying there was no need to get into a "legal thicket" over the issue. She said she assumed Trump's social media director Dan Scavino would unblock the users in light of her decision. However, by late Wednesday afternoon, Cohen said he remained unable to view Trump's tweets.

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@dwnews - President Trump's tweets, one year on

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dm/rc (dpa, Reuters)

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