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Slashdot Asks: Is Trump's Blocking of Some Twitter Users Unconstitutional? (usatoday.com) 390

An anonymous reader shares an article: Some Twitter users say President Trump should not be able to block them on the social network. The president makes unprecedented use of Twitter, having posted more than 24,000 times on his @realDonaldTrump account to 31.7 million followers. His tweets about domestic and foreign policy -- and media coverage of him and his administration -- has transformed Twitter into a public forum with free speech protections. That's the opinion of two Twitter users, who have the backing of the Knight First Amendment Institute. They are sending a letter today to the White House asking Trump to unblock them on his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account. Both users say they were blocked recently after tweeting messages critical of the President. Holly O'Reilly (@AynRandPaulRyan), whose Twitter account identifies her as a March for Truth organizer, said she was blocked on May 23 after posting a GIF of Pope Francis looking and frowning at Trump captioned "this is pretty much how the whole world sees you." In the letter to Trump and the White House, the Knight First Amendment Institute's attorneys argue that Trump's Twitter account "operates as a 'designated public forum' for First Amendment purposes, and accordingly the viewpoint-based blocking of our clients is unconstitutional." In some other news, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today "@realDonaldTrump's tweets are official White House statements."
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Slashdot Asks: Is Trump's Blocking of Some Twitter Users Unconstitutional?

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  • No (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @03:02PM (#54562625)

    Betteridge's Law of Headlines https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betteridge%27s_law_of_headlines

    • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

      by unixisc ( 2429386 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @03:34PM (#54562955)

      Fully agree w/ this. It would be one thing if they didn't want to be blocked from @POTUS, but even that is fine. But @RealDonaldTrump is the president's personal handle, and he can block anyone he likes.

      Recap for all Left wing self-styled First Amendment 'experts': the first amendment only prevents the government from censoring free speech. It doesn't compel them to provide one w/ a listening board. Neither Trump, nor anyone, is obligated to allow people who they deem annoying to keep trolling them

      • Re:No (Score:5, Informative)

        by dffuller ( 200455 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @03:49PM (#54563109)

        Except that the White House just said that those are official statements.

        • OK, and wince when does every and all citizens have a right to attend every and all press-release, speech, etc?

          • Re:No (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @05:28PM (#54563941)

            Since 1791 when the 1st amendment was ratified: "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*.

            And the right to petition includes the ability to, "make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, one's government, without fear of punishment or reprisals". Being blocked by the POTUS is reprisal for the complaints made earlier. Posting a picture of the Pope looking sternly at Trump isn't a complain? Go back to the first amendment and read the part about freedom of speech.

            • The right to petition still exists. You don't get to determine the mechanism.

              To point out the absurdity, try to hold a protest rally inside the White House at 0400.

              I realize this may require some thinking. I'll wait.

              • by wanax ( 46819 )

                You miss the point. Every citizen petitioner has the right to access to the same avenues of petition regardless of their message. You can disallow protests at 4am inside the White House so long as it's a blanket ban. Letting the Society in Favor of Puppies and Kittens have an advocacy event the Green Room before dawn means that any other organization, regardless of how controversial its opinions are, must be given similar consideration (see e.g.: De Jonge v. Oregon or Edwards v. South Carolina).

        • Does not matter. You do not have a First Amendment right to post on government forums, nor do you have a First Amendment right to receive public pronouncements from the government.
      • by tattood ( 855883 )

        Fully agree w/ this. It would be one thing if they didn't want to be blocked from @POTUS, but even that is fine. But @RealDonaldTrump is the president's personal handle, and he can block anyone he likes.

        That would be true, if he used his personal account for personal tweets. But he uses that account to tweet political statements as the President of the United States, so that makes it a political account.

        • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

          From what I've seen, both accounts tend to tweet identical messages. I think they do it for those people that subscribe to one and not the other. I'm not against them blocking people, I'm not going to be let into any White House press conferences, right? OMG, they're blocking me.

          • I'm not going to be let into any White House press conferences, right?

            A reminder that this administration has also blocked certain members of the press from White House press conferences, and has given Alex Jones press credentials.

            According to @POTUS himself, Twitter is how he communicates in an "unfiltered" way with Americans. If he starts blocking people, that's kind of the definition of filtered.

            • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

              Not every member of the press gets invited to the press conferences. Similar to Twitter, if you are in one of those press conferences and you abuse the privilege, you probably will be blocked from attending future press conferences. This isn't a new phenomenon, it's just a new medium.

              Tangent: If someone posts something so offensive in a reply to @POTUS and Twitter bans the user, is Twitter now in violation of the law because it was a reply to @POTUS? And if not, how is that different from the administra

              • I'll take a stab at this:

                Tangent: If someone posts something so offensive in a reply to @POTUS and Twitter bans the user, is Twitter now in violation of the law because it was a reply to @POTUS? And if not, how is that different from the administrators of @POTUS banning someone?

                Ostensibly you were banned from Twitter by Twitter for a violation of their TOU, not because they didn't like what you said. When @POTUS/@RealDonaldTrump blocks you it is based on your speech, and since this is an official government channel that would be where the violation comes in.

                • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

                  I doubt that @realDonaldTrump or @POTUS are banning because they don't like what's being said. It's more likely they're banning people that spam ever tweet with harassing or pornographic material. Twitter bans very selectively. That comedian that posted herself with a depiction of Trump's head is allowed to post, but others that reversed the faces were either banned or suspended. It's a rabbit hole. If we were to treat those accounts as government channels, you would want some blocking to remove things

            • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

              Filtering refers to the speaker, not the listener. The tweets are unfiltered. The listeners are irrelevant.

            • I know you know better. LOL You might fool some of them, but you're not fooling me.

              That may be how he communicates *to* people but we both know he sure as hell isn't listening by that medium. Well, maybe for a very loose definition of 'listening' he does, but I have my doubts.

              Either way, this is kinda stupid. No, there is no right to post to his Twitter feed. Well, there is no legal right to do so. We don't actually have the right to be heard in any way we want. I am pretty sure I could make a seemingly wel

      • by Calydor ( 739835 )

        From the bottom of the summary:

        In some other news, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today "@realDonaldTrump's tweets are official White House statements."

        If the tweets on that account are official White House statements, then it's no longer his personal handle.

      • But @RealDonaldTrump is the president's personal handle, and he can block anyone he likes.

        To play the devils advocate, if this were the case then the POTUS should refrain from discussing any politics or policy on this twitter handle. It may be his personal account, but his posts are anything but personal.

      • He is using his personal account to fire statements as the POTUS so that line is blurry... at the very least.

      • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

        the first amendment only prevents the government from censoring free speech. It doesn't compel them to provide one w/ a listening board.

        That's true, but what's happening in this case is that the government is providing a listening board those who agree with them politically, not providing it to their ideological opponents, and not being completely honest and forthcoming about the censorship. Control of information and communication like this is one of Lifton's eight criteria for thought reform [csj.org] which is use

        • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

          Anyone banned is free to create a new Twitter account and subscribe. No speech is being blocked, only one particular channel.

          Trump is a lot of bad things, but he still has rights. And one of those rights is the right to use Twitter's block feature.

      • FYI - I stop reading when the word Left or Right is used in a political sentence.
      • the first amendment only prevents the government from censoring free speech. It doesn't compel them to provide one w/ a listening board. Neither Trump, nor anyone, is obligated to allow people who they deem annoying to keep trolling them

        The First Amendment puts limits on how the government may limit access to a fully public forum. Check out the case law if you want, but at least take a glance at the Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      • Your incite has a subtle flaw, while the dumb ass in charge,(DAICOTUS) may have many personal things, he is on the job 7/24 till its term ends. Of course, it could always resign. And performing certain non-government related activities could be grounds for, dare I say it? But oh well, what's another loss to a business person?

        Now you have me thinking, does Putin have a gun to the DAICOTUS's head? Then everything makes sense.
      • by kuzb ( 724081 )
        Finally, someone who gets it. It's funny how libs are always screaming to censor people's thoughts and ideas, but when someone censors them they scream bloody murder.
      • You don't seem to understand how this whole "government" thing works anymore than Chump does. He is the President. Until he finally has a complete breakdown or is otherwise removed from office he doesn't get to have a personal twitter account where he makes political statements. If he wants to stick to tweets about pussy grabbing and financial incompetence he might be OK, but the minute he started using it as a political platform it became no longer a "personal account." HTH you get a clue!
  • To learn more about it, follow my Twitter at... oh wait, some other idiot stole my name. [twitter.com]

  • 1st Amendment (Score:3, Insightful)

    by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @03:04PM (#54562653)

    I think this is a clear issue that transcends party lines. He's using the forum to communicate directly to the people and they have a right to participate. If they become abusive he can appeal to Twitter to suspend them.

    • Re:1st Amendment (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @03:09PM (#54562685)

      1st Amendment is free speech, it does not mean you have a right to send your opinion to a specific person (imagine how spammers would exploit that, if it where).

      • Re:1st Amendment (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Carewolf ( 581105 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @04:16PM (#54563377) Homepage

        1st Amendment is free speech, it does not mean you have a right to send your opinion to a specific person (imagine how spammers would exploit that, if it where).

        Yes, but if this is an official channel, the question is: Does the government have the right to refuse input on issues from specific people? If FCC had decided a group of people were not welcome to comment due to them disagreeing with FCC's position, would that be legal.

        The POTUS twitter account would be the exact same situation. If it is an official channel, they may not have the right not to listen to people abitrarily.

        • Your input to government is your elected representatives, not the president.

        • Does the government have the right to refuse input on issues from specific people?

          Yes - it's a right to free speech, not a right to be listened to. If you want a government to listen you have to use your freedom of speech to convince enough voters that you are correct then either they listen or you vote in a government which will at the next election.

          Given the number of complete wackjobs out there with every insane point of view you can think of plus a few more it would be madness to require a government to listen to input from everyone. Having to persuade a reasonable number of the

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Their argument is that the account represents a "designated public forum", The 1st Amendment issue is that the government is stopping _them_ from speaking in this forum.

    • What am I missing (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I thought you could just go to https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump without needing any Twitter account in order to see what Donald Trump has tweeted. Now I suppose being blocked would cause an inconvenience for someone logged in via Twitter smartphone app.

      CAPTCHA: decorum

    • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

      I'm pretty sure TFA isn't saying the users accounts are being suspended; just that his account is blocking tweets from users sending abuse his way -- just like any other Twitter user.

      I'll go out on a limb here and say that a reporter desperate for clickbait is reporting on a few people who appear to have failed their civics course in high school.

      It's not a partisan issue at all - I've met a number of people like this on the street or train. They're not powerful, wealthy, or have celebrity - they're just an

    • First, no, I don't think this is a First Amendment issue. Because (a) you can still post to Twitter; (b) even if you couldn't, Twitter is a privately owned site, and the first amendment doesn't guarantee you access to someone else's soapbox; and (c) even if the government were running a website, I would think they should be able to moderate it to some degree, e.g. posting porn to a discussion forum for infrastructure spending.

      But also, honestly, of all the stupid and screwed up things the Trump administra

      • It doesn't matter who owns the site.

        What you're saying is like the city saying it can regulate who is allowed to write letters to the editor of a local newspaper, because the newspaper is private. It just makes no sense at all.

        All that matters is if the actions of the government were content-based and denied somebody some sort of access or participation. If so, then they're probably not allowed to do it.

        It probably means that it is unwise to have any routine government communications on a social media platf

        • What you're saying is like the city saying it can regulate who is allowed to write letters to the editor of a local newspaper, because the newspaper is private.

          No, what I'm saying is that the local newspaper can throw away your letter without reading it.

          It probably means that it is unwise to have any routine government communications on a social media platform.

          Well... yeah. The government shouldn't be relying on social networks (or any private company) to disseminate information. And it's probably not wise for an individual to take the PotUS's Tweets as official communications. Especially not if it's from his personal account. And especially not if the PotUS is a moronic child with self-control issues.

          • Well, you're not even talking about the same subject as everybody else.

            Everybody else is talking about something that President Trump did, not something that somebody at Twitter did. Clue up, stickman.

        • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

          It's like saying that if you send a letter to your local newspaper care of your local representative, the representative is allowed to burn the letter without reading it. Furthermore, he can instruct the mail handler at the newspaper to do that for him.

          Oh look, that's perfectly legal, because elected official or not, he doesn't have to read your god-dammed letter.

          • That's a pretty tortured construction. You have every right to abuse logic with such a bizarre hypothetical, but don't expect it to be taken very seriously.

            My advice, try a hypothetical drawn from existing things in society. Sending a letter to the editor in care of a representative is not even a thing people do, and there is no reason they would want to. It has no parallel to the real situation that is happening on planet Earth being discussed here.

            But if your Representative in some way convinced the publi

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      First Amendment reads:

      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.

      He's not abridging your freedom of speech, assembly, or even preventing you from petitioning the government. How is this a first amendment issue, at all? He's not Congress, and he's made no law - so right there, he's

    • bullshit. the only thing that is clear is that twitter allows blocking, and any twitter user can do that. there is no concept of "rights" here. clearly you are imaging things like "censorship" apply to forums hosted by private companies. no such thing

    • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

      And what (legal) right would that be, exactly?

  • by ewhac ( 5844 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @03:06PM (#54562665) Homepage Journal
    The President is under no obligation to listen to you. Ignoring constituents is rather poor form, but it's not illegal or unconstitutional, any more than it is illegal or unconstitutional for current or past Presidents to ignore emails, phone calls, or written correspondence.
    • by Fire_Wraith ( 1460385 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @03:16PM (#54562791)
      It's an interesting question, really.

      I think we can agree that the President using the power of the government to enjoin/prevent someone from being able to post on Twitter, at all, would violate the first amendment, first off. I think it's also fair to say that the President (or his staff) are under no obligation to read what any given person wrote to them on Twitter. But that said, this is something that falls between the two, because it's also not just a matter of not seeing you - it's a matter of preventing you from seeing what he's posted. He could easily mute people, rather than block them, for instance.

      Now, that latter part may not be a first amendment violation specifically, but it does possibly fall under other legal provisions about transparency laws, since despite it being his personal account, he's clearly using it for official business. Ah well - in the end, it's just more business for the lawyers. :)
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by s.petry ( 762400 )

        It's an interesting question, really.

        In your opinion perhaps, but a measurable percentage of people disagree with you. Do try to be less arrogant.

        I think we can agree that the President using the power of the government to enjoin/prevent someone from being able to post on Twitter, at all, would violate the first amendment, first off.

        Well, so much for being less arrogant because "NO", we can't agree. President Trump is not preventing anyone from getting or using a Twitter account. Nor is he blocking anyone from reading anything on Twitter including his posts. You don't even need a Twitter account to read his posts, you can do so anonymously. There is no punishment for reading his posts, no punishment for people posting disag

        • The first amendment does not mean that anyone has to be forced to listen to you or agree with you.

          The first amendment is more than just freedom of speech. It also contains the right to "petition the government". It is arguable that this requires that the government be forced to listen to (not agree with) you. If the twitter account is considered an official communication platform (per Spicer) then it MAY be that the President (or his designee) would be required to listen to people who communicate with it.

          Secondly, the GPs statement was a hypothetical: IF the president was using the power of the go

          • Horse shit (Score:2, Insightful)

            by s.petry ( 762400 )

            Twitter is not the Government, and has nothing to do with the Government. President Trump did not make a requirement to petition Government following him on Twitter. Another fantasy (fake) issue won't make you or GP correct. You can petition Government all you want without Twitter, and I'll suggest that in 140 characters or less a Twitter petition is as "useful as a poopy flavored lollypop" (@tm Patches O'Hoolihan).

            Claiming a violation of rights is occurring because "hypothetical" seems to be a common tr

        • It's an interesting question, really.

          In your opinion perhaps, but a measurable percentage of people disagree with you. Do try to be less arrogant.

          The only one being an arrogant ass here is you. There is nothing arrogant about saying "Hmm, this is interesting", there is however an extreme amount of arrogance on attacking people personally and calling them arrogant just because they have mild curiosity for a position that is different than yours.

      • by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @05:15PM (#54563865)

        It's an interesting question, really.

        No, it really isn't.

        This is the most absurd attempt at stirring up controversy yet, and that's saying something, what with Mr. Controversy Magnet as our POTUS. The phrase "tempest in a teacup" best describes the bizarre notion that being blocked from realDonaldTrump on Twitter is some sort of Constitutional crisis. Maybe it's a violation of someone's safe space, but not their First Amendment rights.

        This isn't "fake news", but it sure seems like "manufactured news."

      • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

        Blocking an account does not block the person. Unless Twitter somehow manages to enforce a one-account-per-person rule.

    • On the other hand, as a government official using what is arguably an official government platform to do that communicating, it could be that blocking a Twitter user is a form of censorship.

      At the very least, blocked users do not show up on your list of followers, so perhaps a case could be made that by blocking @ewhac the President is suppressing your public visibility and is therefore censoring you... a violation the 1st amendment.

      IANAL though. I just don't see it as quite that clear-cut.
      =Smidge=

    • But that's not really equivalent -- ignoring/not listening/not responding is not the same as blocking.

      Unless I'm misunderstanding the issue, this Twitter issue would be like blocking this form [whitehouse.gov] for certain IPs. Now I'm not sure that would be illegal (IANAL), but imagine if Trump blocked, say, San Francisco-based IPs, or if Obama had blocked it for rural West Virginia IPs.
    • The President is under no obligation to listen to you. Ignoring constituents is rather poor form, but it's not illegal or unconstitutional, any more than it is illegal or unconstitutional for current or past Presidents to ignore emails, phone calls, or written correspondence.

      He doesn't have to listen. But if he permits comments from his supporters and uses the account for presidential purposes, then he has to accept ALL comments without editing out those he doesn't like or blocking commenters that he doesn

      • I'm not sure that analysis is correct. The case you linked to (in the indystar) never went to court. To consider it differently, if you are at a town-hall meeting, and CODEPINK runs in and starts shouting, they can be arrested.

        The real question is whether Donald Trump, by having a Twitter feed, has created a public forum or not. [wikipedia.org] Obviously that isn't something the creators of the constitution had thought about when they wrote the amendment, and none of the prior judgements really address the point, so t
        • Cases like that not going to court doesn't imply it is unknown. While it depends on the actual situation, the government isn't personally paying for the lawyers and so generally will defend its position whenever it can win. These cases not going to court implies that the government would lose badly.

  • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @03:08PM (#54562677) Journal

    He is the new *King of all media*. People can't wait (and apparently will sue) to hear what he'll say next. It's perfect!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @03:15PM (#54562763)

    The left will block people pre-emptively but block them and it's a damn constitutional crisis. Please run The Rock in 2020.

  • Among other things (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @03:27PM (#54562895) Journal
    He should have turned over his Twitter account to his Press Secretary when he took office and all Tweets should have been vetted and cleared before being sent. But of course that's just the smallest thing on a huge list of things he should or should not be doing, up to and including having run for president in the first place.
  • by Derekloffin ( 741455 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2017 @03:35PM (#54562971)
    Not really. There is several ways we can look at this, but none of them lead to the government censoring those blocked. The first is Trump is using Twitter as an individual, in which case he has all his rights as an individual including the right to not listen to you. Freedom of association. The second is Trump is acting as public official, but in this still doesn't get us there as he is on a private platform. Just like a speaking event can deny you access to the president, Twitter can do the same. It is not interfering with your right to speak as you don't have a right to Twitter's platform as it were. Even if we consider Trump in control here (which he isn't but regardless lets consider it as he has some control) it still wouldn't get us there as freedom of speech is not the right to be heard by a particular party, only the right to be able to speak. Even as a public official, Trump doesn't have to listen to you, and thus there is no violation. You're still allowed to say anything about Trump yourself, even on Twitter, just it wouldn't be carried on his feed. The closest I can see we can get is that these twitter posts could be seen as matters of public record, and therefore accessible by the public which Trump is interfering with by blocking users. However, I don't think this will hold as many public records have blocks to getting them. It is enough that they are accessible via some means through freedom of information requests.
    • Actually you missed on this one. Mr. Trump has decided to use Twitter as a way to be in communication in his capacity as President of the United States. In addition, he has used his own Twitter ID instead of the POTUS one that was established for these communications. As such, this becomes a channel to reach a government official and selective blocking of that channel becomes a Constitutional issue. The White House Press Secretary has confirmed that official pronouncements come from the RealDonaldTr

  • He has every right to block anyone from HIS PERSONAL @realDonaldTrump account...

    He has NO right to block anyone from @POTUS.

    Having said that, the legality of using his personal @realDonaldTrump account to discuss matters of state is a whole different can of worms.

    PS: IANAL

  • There is no constitutional "right" that says anybody has to listen to you

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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