Appeals Court Rules Trump Can’t Block Annoying Twitter Users

Appeals Court Rules Trump Can’t Block Annoying Twitter Users
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

A U.S. federal appeals court says President Donald Trump can’t block critics from reading and responding to his Twitter account — his personal Twitter account.

NBC News, which omitted that relevant fact until the tenth paragraph, summed up the court’s opinion:

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan upheld a lower court judge who said Trump violates the Constitution when he blocks critics.

“The irony in all of this is that we write at a time in the history of this nation when the conduct of our government and its officials is subject to wide-open, robust debate,” Circuit Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel.

The debate generates a “level of passion and intensity the likes of which have rarely been seen,” the court’s decision read.

Trump actually has two Twitter accounts. The first, and best known, is @realDonaldTrump. Then there’s the official @POTUS feed, which was originally owned by Barack Obama, and transferred to Trump on the day of his inauguration. @realDonaldTrump has nearly 62 million followers, while @POTUS enjoys a “mere” 26 million. @POTUS comes, courtesy of Twitter, with the highest office in the land, and will transfer to Trump’s successor. Trump launched @realDonaldTrump as a private citizen, and he’ll keep it for as long as he likes. Or until Twitter decides to ban him, just as they’ve banned many other conservatives for reasons unknown.

And that’s Twitter’s business, isn’t it? Twitter is a shareholder-owned company, run by progressive CEO Jack Dorsey, which provides a “free” service to its users, and what is allowed on their network is what they allow on their network.

Or at least… until today, courtesy of a 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision which essentially guts Twitter’s sometimes abusive Terms of Service, whether the court realizes that or not.

If the First Amendment applies to Twitter, and therefore Twitter can’t allow public officials to block users even from their personal accounts, then it follows that, well, the First Amendment applies to Twitter, and therefore Twitter can’t censor political content or ban users for their political views.

Judge Parker wants a robust online debate? Fine, let’s have that debate. Let’s have it 24/7/365. But debate is impossible so long as Twitter is allowed to ban certain kinds of speech, just like it’s impossible — according to the court’s reasoning — so long as Trump can block certain kinds of accounts.

More from NBC News:

The ruling came in a case brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. It had sued on behalf of seven individuals blocked by Trump after criticizing his policies.

Jameel Jaffer, the institute’s director, said in an email that public officials’ social media accounts are now among the most significant forums for discussion of government policy.

The ruling “will ensure that people aren’t excluded from these forums simply because of their viewpoints,” he said.

Are you listening, Jack Dorsey?

UPDATE: My friend Jimmy Bise quips on Facebook, “BREAKING: Court rules public officials are not allowed to protect themselves from online abuse.”