Clay Calvert Comments on Court Ruling Stopping Trump from Blocking Critics on Twitter
Clay Calvert, director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, is the author of “Appeals Court Rules Against Trump Blocking Critics on Twitter” published in The Conversation on July 9.
Calvert comments on the ruling by a federal appeals court in New York to uphold a lower court ruling to stop Trump from blocking people on Twitter or allowing them to see his posts. He says the ruling is a victory for the First Amendment rights of citizens who comment on the activities of government officials on social media.
“The appeals court’s ruling is not a surprise to me,” said Calvert. “That’s because it, like the lower court decision it upholds, is grounded in the well-established principles of protecting political speech and barring government discrimination against people engaged in public discourse based on their viewpoints.”
According to Calvert, the main debate was whether the president’s personal Twitter account was a public forum governed by the First Amendment. Unlike other public forums, Twitter is run by a private company. This district court’s ruling found that Twitter has less control over the account than Trump himself.
“Their power includes the ability to block people from seeing the account’s tweets, and ‘from participating in the interactive space associated with the tweets,’ in the form of replies and comments on Twitter’s platform,” Calvert said. “Also key was the fact that the @realDonaldTrump account is used for governmental purposes. Specifically, the district court judge found that ’the President presents the @realDonaldTrump account as being a presidential account as opposed to a personal account and, more importantly, uses the account to take actions that can be taken only by the President as President’ – such as announcing the appointments and terminations of government officials.”
Calvert adds that the appeals court agreed on both points, saying, “the First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise-open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.”