back to article Trump tramples US Constitution by blocking Twitter critics – lawsuit

President Donald Trump's habit of blocking critics from following his Twitter account faces a legal challenge that seeks to prevent him from tuning out those with opposing views. On Tuesday, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed a lawsuit in New York's Southern District on behalf of seven people who …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "But right now I feel only hope," she said. "The right to seek a legal remedy when the president violates my rights is an extraordinary thing, one of many things that makes America great."

    Tell that to the Mexicans and Muslims.

    1. BillG Silver badge
      Facepalm

      ...claims Trump's practice of blocking Twitter followers represents an unconstitutional attempt to suppress dissent.

      Like I keep telling people - yes, you have the right to voice your opinion. You do NOT have the right to demand others listen to your opinion.1

      .

      1I'm talking to the guy that always sits next to me at the pub and talks about his team to no one.

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Or

      Options:

      Ban Trump from Twitter.

      Ban Twitter.

      Ignore his tweets

      1. Bloodbeastterror

        Re: Or

        Options:

        Ban Trump.

        FTFY. You're welcome.

      2. Chemical Bob Bronze badge

        Re: Options:

        I'll take option number 4 - custard.

        Its like number 3 only yummy.

    3. steve 124

      ID 10 T alert

      I'm going to take liberties here and assume the phrase "violates my rights" refers to 1st amendment rights to free speech (albeit that person is an idiot).

      So in that context, Mr. Coward, Mexicans and Muslims (non-naturalized) have no 1st amendment rights as they are not American citizens.

      Remember, Hillary didn't win, so the entire world population is not now a US citizen, despite what the media tell you.

      Next.

      1. ObeyThePoodle

        Re: ID 10 T alert

        U sure?

        https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/457/202

        Unless the Constitution expressly sets apart its protections to U.S. citizens, it protects non-citizens too.

        To be sure, there are important distinctions. For example, green card holders cannot vote like citizens despite being able to live and work freely in the U.S.

        Nevertheless, when the Constitution says “all persons” or “all people,” the Supreme Court has held that it means what it says. As far back as in 1886, in the Supreme Court held that “the guarantees of protection contained in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution extend to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, without regard to differences of race, of color, or of nationality.” (Yick Wo v. Hopkins) Not just members of a certain religion, not just members of a certain race, and not just individuals born in the U.S. All persons. All people.

        http://www.whitlockgray.com/2017/01/30/do-non-citizens-have-rights-under-the-constitution/

        1. Prndll

          Re: ID 10 T alert

          You slur the meaning.

          ALL people are equal.....yes. But The law as it is applied in Mexico does not treat basic human freedom the way it should. China doesn't either. Nor does Russia. The American Constitution has no jurisdiction over "Mexicans" as Mexicans are citizens of Mexico. They may have green cards and might be given the ability to work and even dwell in the US, but that does not in itself automaticly make them "US citizens" covered by all provisions of the US Constitution. More countries need to be run with something very similar to the US constitution. If they were, These principles would and actually could be applied to "all people".

          Mexicans and Muslims and anyone else that wishes to become American (US citizen) may at anytime. All are welcome.

          When you become American. You are American. NOT Mexican. Your heritage never changes but you do change. Otherwise, there would never be any point in the effort. The same thing should be just as easy to understand and be applied just as unilaterally to any Muslim wishing to become a citizen of the UK.

          Are these Mexicans changing and becoming American?

          Are these Muslims changing and becoming British?

          ------------------------------------------------------

          NO ONE HAS A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO TWITTER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          Twitter and the use there of is not and never will be a RIGHT!

          The same is true with Facebook. The same is true with MySpace (for the few that still might use that).

          Trump might have a twitter account and he might use it but NO ONE outside of 'Twitter' actually controls Twitter. If you have an account and that account gives you the ability to 'block' people from you conversations...........take it up with Twitter. If you don't think Trump should have that ability, then NO ONE should. Again....Take it up with Twitter.

          1. big_D Silver badge

            Re: ID 10 T alert

            @Prndll Your statement doesn't make sense, so I'll rephrase it for you.

            Islam is a religion and Muslims are no different in that respect to any other religion (in general terms) and they can come from any country, including the USA or the UK. Your statement was, are these people giving up their religion to become American citizens? I thought part of the American constitution was religious freedom.

            Are these Catholics changing and becoming American?

            Are these Protestants changing and becoming American?

            Are these Pentacostalists changing and becoming American?

            Are these Jews changing and becoming American?

            Are these Evangelists changing and becoming American?

            Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

            1. Prndll

              Re: ID 10 T alert

              That isn't what I said.

              That's what you're saying.

              No one has to give up any religion. That is so completely opposite of the idea here. What I'm saying is that there is no point in it if your not going to willing become a citizen of the nation your living in. Unless your motives are something else. Many people have used the word 'assimilation'. Without that, the ultimate result is destruction. Although, that is exactly what is desired by many.

          2. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

            Re: ID 10 T alert

            ".. If they were, These principles would and actually could be applied to "all people"."

            "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

            - US Declaration of Independence"

            I'm finding it amazing how often I have to quote this to Americans. Notice how that very famous paragraph doesn't say "....that all AMERICANS are created equal." it says "All men".

            1. Jaybus

              Re: ID 10 T alert

              'Notice how that very famous paragraph doesn't say "....that all AMERICANS are created equal." it says "All men".'

              Notice that it is the Declaration of Independence and not the US Constitution, so doesn't pertain to this case.

              1. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

                Re: ID 10 T alert

                "Notice that it is the Declaration of Independence and not the US Constitution, so doesn't pertain to this case."

                It is the founding statement of intent and principle of your nation. Or is it just bullshit words?

                It's make your mind up time, America.

        2. aelfheld

          Re: ID 10 T alert

          It's also been established that those in the country illegally do not enjoy the full panoply of rights protected by Constitution.

      2. Andromeda451

        Re: ID 10 T alert

        The loony left has been driving for "rights" for everyone...

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: ID 10 T alert

          The loony left has been driving for "rights" for everyone...

          You obviously haven't read the US Constitution and Bill of Rights..

          Done by those well-known socialists in the 18th Century

        2. aelfheld

          Re: ID 10 T alert

          While trying to shut down those specifically guaranteed in the Constitution.

      3. L05ER

        Re: ID 10 T alert

        it actually refers to the right to read some of the president's communications... part of governmental transparency.

        it's all bullshit, they want to force him to allow them to harras his account and mock his tweets. the only thing you can't do to a blocked account is: participate in the tweets. you can still see them while logged out.

      4. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: ID 10 T alert

        Also, remember the 1st Amendment is about government censorship of speech, not some private person restricting who can see/hear it. As I understand it, the Twitter account is Trump's personal account which means he makes the rules.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: ID 10 T alert

          "As I understand it, the Twitter account is Trump's personal account which means he makes the rules."

          I think you missed the point of both the article and the legal challenge. It may have been created as a personal Twitter account but it has and is being used as an official presidential and White House comms channel and so ought to be subject to the same rules as other official comms channels.

          1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
            Boffin

            @John Brown... Re: ID 10 T alert

            Trump has two accounts. His own personal account and now the WH account that was created by Obama. While they may have rights to control the account, Twitter owns the system so you can't say that the twitter account is an extension of the government. You are essentially rewriting the laws on property ownership and rights.

            Having said that...

            If you look at Clinton's server, which is her own property, set up at her house... with the sole user being her and her staff and was her sole form of communication... you would have a better case making your statement that it was in fact a defacto work system and hence she ceded the property to the government.

            (I'm sure that there exists case law that would support that.)

            If you get bounced, what's to stop you from creating another account and then following Trump?

            Or having multiple Twitter accounts?

        2. big_D Silver badge

          Re: ID 10 T alert

          @a_yank_lurker read the story, by still using it, although he should be restricting his (official) communications to the official POTUS account, he has made it an official record of his presidency, so it is no longer his private account, because of his choosing.

          1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
            Boffin

            @Big D ... Re: ID 10 T alert

            Dude, you're so wrong its laughable.

            1) The official records act does not cover tweets, snap chats, or whatever... it would have to be updated to include these forms of communication. (It would also imply that all phone conversations should be transcribed and stored.... Same for videos of Trump's speeches and all photo ops. )

            2) You're confusing property rights and the Official records act. Assume that the Official records act did require the tweets to be saved. That can be done without claiming that this is now property of the US.

            3) The Obama administration set up the POTUS account. So were all of those tweets saved? Did Obama's Admin eject people from the stream?

            4) Property rights. Twitter owns the servers and provides a server. By your logic because Trump uses a phone, then the government owns the phone companies.

            Bottom line. The case should be dismissed with prejudice.

        3. SolidSquid

          Re: ID 10 T alert

          The point this lawsuit is making is that it's no longer a private account, but rather one run as part of the official communications of the White House (which makes other White House officials having access significant). It's also not necessarily about them being able to tweet directly at Trump, but also about being blocked from the public discourse regarding what seems to be official government statements in the replies to the tweets that are made.

          It might not be a completely clear cut case, but there's enough wiggle room there because of the way the account has been used that they might have a case, or at least will be able to get the law clarified on how government officials can use social media in their official capacity

        4. handleoclast Silver badge

          Re: As I understand it

          @a_yank_lurker

          You appear not to understand it very well. Or, at best, you are under-informed.

          Here is a press briefing by Sean Spicer where he says that Trump "is the President of the United States, so they're considered official statements by the President of the United States."

          So there you have the definitive, official answer on this. Until Trump decides to contradict what Spicey said. Which he probably will. And then the day after contradict himself.

          Whether or not that then means Americans have a constitutional right to respond to those tweets is another matter. But they are (until Trump changes his mind) official statements by POTUS even if they come from @RealDonaldTrump.

          1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
            Boffin

            @handleoclast ... Re: As I understand it

            Whoa!

            You want to play Perry Mason, first go to law school and learn something of the law.

            Trump tweets.

            You do not have a first amendment right to retweet. That doesn't mean you don't have the right to make a new tweet on the same topic.

            Seriously.... you really need to think about the law and what it covers and doesn't cover.

            Look at it this way... Trump is in a crowded stadium. You and your best buds decide to go to the event and then unroll a banner that is anti-Trump. While you have your rights to the first amendment, that doesn't mean that security can't tear down your banner and physically eject you from the event, or you getting arrested for trespassing.

            1. handleoclast Silver badge

              Re: @handleoclast ... As I understand it

              @Ian Michael Gumby

              The first amendment covers more than just freedom of speech. It also covers

              the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

              Knight Institute's argument is, as I understand it, that Trump has made @RealDonaldTrump a place for official presidential statements (or so Spicey said), and that twitter is a public forum where people peaceably assemble. There they petition Trump for a redress of grievances. Admittedly, most of those grievances are the fact that Trump is president, but that's irrelevant.

              Imagine what would happen if Trump decreed that news organizations could not publish anything he doesn't like about his official policy statements. Not even if it's true and not defamatory. That would be only a minor escalation of his Twitter policy.

              That doesn't mean Knight is certain to win the case, just that your argument doesn't prove they're going to lose. If it goes to the Supremes then they probably will lose, but if so that's likely to be a political rather than a legal decision.

              Your argument would apply to the White House web site. It's not a public forum. People have no right to reply in situ. Twitter is a public forum and Trump is using it to issue official policy statements. It's as if Trump suddenly decided to post official policy statements in these hallowed commentard pages and demanded that El Reg block anyone from replying to his posts if they said bad things about him.

              As others have pointed out, Trump could avoid the legal problem entirely by making the account read-only. What they didn't point out is why he won't do that: he wants the adulation. He craves adulation. He's desperate for adulation. So he won't make the account read-only.

              1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

                @Handleoclast ... Re: @handleoclast ... As I understand it

                Again, I suggest that you actually learn something of the law.

                First in the court system, the burden of the proof is on the plaintiff. So, if the claims are made, the plaintiff has to prove their case in court.

                With respect to Twitter, they are a <u>PRIVATE</u> company. They set the T's & C's and the features. Not the government.

                Here's the simple litmus test:

                1) Did the user violate the T's & C's of Twitter?

                2) Did Trump violate the T's & C's of Twitter for blocking a follower from following them?

                3) Assuming that Twitter didn't ban the user... Did Trump's blocking the user remove the user's ability to tweet on his own? gather and maintain his own set of followers? (Note: this is your interpretation of 'assembly' )

                Then answer to each of these questions is no.

                There's more... none of which supports your argument and views of the law.

                Seriously, the lawyers who bring these types of 'creative' lawsuits should be sanctioned by the bar. Using the law to harass

                1. handleoclast Silver badge

                  Re: @Handleoclast ... @handleoclast ... As I understand it

                  @Ian Michael Gumby

                  You have produced a concise summary of Twitter's legal position. It may or may not be correct but I don't really care either way.

                  What you have completely ignored is the US Constitution and case law surrounding it that apply to official presidential communications and the first amendment.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: As I understand it

            Whether or not that then means Americans have a constitutional right to respond to those tweets is another matter.

            I think it's not a matter of yes or no, it's a matter of all or none. Trump freezing out critics amounts to censorship, which is treating critics wilfully different to others and the legality of that is what this lawsuit will have to clarify.

            1. big_D Silver badge

              Re: As I understand it

              Whether or not that then means Americans have a constitutional right to respond to those tweets is another matter.

              It is more that they have a constitutional right to see those posts from the President. That is a legal requirement, which Trump is denying some US users of Twitter.

              (Yes, technically, you could log out of Twitter, look at Trumps tweets, then log back in, if you are on the web; if you are using the App, you can't view anything if you are logged out and you can't view Trump's missives if you are logged in.)

              It seems they also have the right to be heard in their replies, but it is allegedly illegal for Trump and his team to block them from seeing his tweets. That is where the case seeks clarity.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: ID 10 T alert

        "So in that context, Mr. Coward, Mexicans and Muslims (non-naturalized) have no 1st amendment rights as they are not American citizens."

        Really? I was referencing those that were naturalised and are American citizens. Lest we forget previous presidential orders about immigration changing the existing rules.

        I'm not even American but come on, you can't say "come here" and "f*ck off" at the same time.

        I'm glad Hillary didn't win, that would be like having to sit through 4 years of adam sandler films, now we get eddie murphey, dan ackroyd, John Balushi etc... some of the greatest comedy legends of all time.

        Popcorn is on and at the ready.

        1. Sandtitz Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: ID 10 T alert

          "I'm glad Hillary didn't win, that would be like having to sit through 4 years of adam sandler films, now we get eddie murphey, dan ackroyd, John Balushi etc... some of the greatest comedy legends of all time."

          You forgot Bill Cosby. And Rupert Pupkin.

        2. big_D Silver badge

          Re: ID 10 T alert

          “Give me your tired, your poor,

          Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

          The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

          Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

          I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

          That has been the way America has been seen for the last century and a half.

          Now, in 2017, that seems to be

          "Keep your tired, your poor

          Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

          The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

          Keep them, the homeless, the entrepreneurs, tempest-tossed,

          I have doused my lamp and closed the golden door!"

        3. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

          Re: ID 10 T alert

          I'm not even American but come on, you can't say "come here" and "f*ck off" at the same time.

          Steven Wright can: he called his dog "Stay" :)

      6. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
        Boffin

        @ Steve 124 Re: ID 10 T alert

        Within the US, even illegal aliens have rights.

        But here's the thing...

        1) Twitter is not the US Government.

        2) The burden is on the plaintiff to show that their first amendment rights were in fact violated.

        Trump has his personal account and the WH account. In both he and his staff have the right to control or block whom they wish. Its a feature of Twitter.

        So if Trump blocks George Stephanopulos for being a weenie, that doesn't stop George Stephanopulos from creating another account to listen to Trump's tweets. Note: I do know George from way back when and yes, he's a weenie. ;-)

        The case is noise and should be dismissed outright.

        1. SolidSquid

          Re: @ Steve 124 ID 10 T alert

          "So if Trump blocks George Stephanopulos for being a weenie, that doesn't stop George Stephanopulos from creating another account to listen to Trump's tweets."

          Pretty sure that's a breach of Twitters terms and conditions, so couldn't be used as part of a legal argument that he could still gain access.

          1. SundogUK

            Re: @ Steve 124 ID 10 T alert

            You don't even need an account. I don't have one and I am reading his tweets right now...

          2. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

            Re: @ Steve 124 ID 10 T alert

            So Twitter says George Stephanopolus can be a weenie?

            Works for me.

        2. Velv Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: @ Ian Michael Gumby

          "Trump has his personal account and the WH account. In both he and his staff have the right to control or block whom they wish. Its a feature of Twitter."

          And if they were personal accounts you would be right. But they are being used to make official government statements, and therefore fall under the laws that control official government communications which must be available to all citizens equally.

          1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
            Flame

            @Velv Re: @ Ian Michael Gumby

            Again, I suggest that you get a handle on property law.

            Your First Amendment right to free speech is that you have the right to speak your mind as long as it isn't hate speech and/or qualifies as protected speech. Note that not all speech is protected under the first amendment.

            If Trump or the WH block you from their account, does that mean that you can't post using your own twitter account? The answer is no. Unless you violate the rules of Twitter which is a private company, you can set up your own account and tweet whatever you want as long as its not a violation of Twitter.

            So your argument falls flat.

            There's more, but that alone kills the lawsuit.

            You say " But they are being used to make official government statements, and therefore fall under the laws that control official government communications which must be available to all citizens equally."

            Again, I suggest you actually learn the law before making such a silly statement.

            <boom mic drop>

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @ Steve 124 ID 10 T alert

          I think we need to see how this plays out in court, but it's genius IMHO.

          1) Twitter is not the US Government.

          No, but as soon as you use it as an official government channel (which is what Trump has done) it attracts the rules for government communication

          2) The burden is on the plaintiff to show that their first amendment rights were in fact violated.

          The argument is that either Trump allows ALL or allows NONE to comment, he does not get to cherry pick who can comment because that quite simply then amounts to censorship.

          Where this gets amusing is that this now burdens Twitter with the problem of keeping trolls away from that account. Negative comments are not trolls, so they'll have to be quite careful how they walk that line which is IMHO fantastically amusing in itself (not a fan of either Twitter and Trump) - if this lawsuit succeeds Twitter risks a lawsuit every time they block a troll.

          It may very well render the Trump account unusable, which would IMHO be exceptionally good news for the US and the world.

      7. James Loughner

        Re: ID 10 T alert

        ALL Men are endowed with certain inalienably rights which include life liberty and pursuit of happiness.

      8. Phil W

        Re: ID 10 T alert

        @AC and steve 124 "Mexicans and Muslims (non-naturalized) have no 1st amendment rights as they are not American citizens."

        Despite what Trump and the media may tell you "Muslim" is not a nationality, it is a religion just like Christianity, Judaism, Taoism, Buddhism or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and has nothing more to do with rights of citizenship than any of them do.

        While you may be right about Mexicans (or citizens of any other country), there are plenty of Muslims in the USA whose families have been there for countless generations so no naturlisation involved.

        @BillG "yes, you have the right to voice your opinion. You do NOT have the right to demand others listen to your opinion"

        While that is generally true, this is a bit of grey area because it's social media (hence the legal case which will firm this up). If the @RealDonaldTrump account is to be consider an official public communications channel of the President, then blocking people from seeing what the President says there has serious legal implications since in practice it is akin to trying to the President trying to prevent that person seeing any other official public statement he makes, and making any kind of public response to that statement.

        You'd think it ridiculous if the President tried to issue an Executive Order stating that Steven King wasn't allowed to read any newspaper articles with his statements in or watch any of his statements/interviews of TV, and wasn't allowed to publicly publish any criticism of them.

        Fundamentally the problem here is that Trump is using 'Block' rather than 'Mute', one limits what the other person can do while the other just prevents you having to see what they have to say, for someone like the POTUS there is an important legal difference.

        1. SundogUK

          Re: ID 10 T alert

          This is rubbish. I don't even have a twitter account and I can follow what he says. YOU DO NOT NEED A TWITTER ACCOUNT TO FOLLOW A TWITTER USER.

          1. Velv Silver badge
            Big Brother

            @SundogUK

            "This is rubbish. I don't even have a twitter account and I can follow what he says. YOU DO NOT NEED A TWITTER ACCOUNT TO FOLLOW A TWITTER USER."

            But you do need an account to take part in the debate, be that to provide evidence in support or contradiction of the debate, and by blocking select users you are censoring the debate. And while that may be OK for private citizens who only want to hear what they want to hear, it is government censorship if it's is the President or his office that choose to block citizens.

      9. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

        Re: ID 10 T alert

        "ID 10 T alert"

        Good of you to use that as your post title, just to warn us you were posting.

      10. kain preacher Silver badge

        Re: ID 10 T alert

        Psst. In the US you need not be a citizen for the Constitution to apply to you . If yu area green card holder but not a citizen you have all the rights of citizen except for voting in federal elections. green card holders can buy guns in the US. When we still had the draft green card holders could be drafted.

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Unhappy

      "the right to seek a legal remedy"

      read: "the so-called right to ABuse the court system in order to SCREW EVERYBODY ELSE by judge-shopping until some activist does 'yet another injunction'"

      asshats and trolls, in actuality. It's why you're allowed to BLOCK THEM with Twitter feeds, apparently.

      OR... maybe Twitter can make it a "read only" feed!!! [then NOBODY can comment]

  2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    This should be interesting.

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