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Thursday, July 13, 2017

President Sued For Blocking Twitter Users

We have previously mentioned on the blog that the law treats a personal social media site different from a government site. For example, a government social media site may be subject to open records laws (FOIA), record retention laws, and most importantly, the First Amendment. 

Because the First Amendment protects free speech rights against government interference, government must be careful in moderating activities on its social media sites. So, while individuals might delete comments or posts that they don't like from their personal social media page, a government does not have the same freedom because comments and posts made on a government social media page could be protected First Amendment speech. Similarly, while individuals can block people from their own personal pages, governments have to be cautious not to censor an individual's protected speech.

This issue recently came up in connection with the President's Twitter account. According to news reports, people have been blocked from the President's @realDonaldTrump Twitter site after tweeting criticism. Earlier this week, seven individuals and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed a lawsuit against Trump, press secretary Sean Spicer and Dan Scavino (the White House director of social media) claiming that their First Amendment right to free speech had been violated by the Twitter block. The lawsuit claims that @realDonaldTrump is an official government social media site because of the way the President uses his Twitter account to communicate about government business. You can read some of these arguments on the Knight First Amendment Institute's website here and you can read the complaint here.

It will be interesting to see how this case proceeds, particularly in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion recognizing social media as an important platform for exchanging views and engaging with elected officials. Specifically, the Court stated as follows:
Twitter, [where] users can petition their elected representatives and otherwise engage with them in a direct manner. 
The threshold question is whether the President's @realDonaldTrump account is a government account that would implicate First Amendment protections. The answer to that question will likely turn on how the account is used by the President and the White House, and how that site is used as compared to the @POTUS account. The fact that White House aides assist him in administering the @realDonaldTrump page, including posting tweets on behalf of the President, will also likely be relevant.

This is an important issue for elected officials at all levels who use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites to communicate and connect with their constituents. 

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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