Thomas Gallatin / Jul. 10, 2019

Court Favors Trump Twitter Trolls

Second Circuit ruling opens up questions on social-media companies serving as public forums.

“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,” declared Judge Barrington Parker in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against President Donald Trump for blocking critics from his Twitter account. The Second Circuit’s ruling upheld the decision of a district court.

This rather confusing ruling has opened the door for more lawsuits, as demonstrated by an almost immediate suit against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for her similar practice of blocking people from her Twitter account.

There are several issues here — some of which the court addressed and others it indicated it would intentionally avoid. The first and biggest was the question of First Amendment rights, specifically the free-speech rights of all Americans. The court noted that government officials are not allowed to prevent individuals’ access to publicly presented information, nor may public officials prevent private individuals from speaking freely on that information. Essentially, the court asserted that Twitter was a public forum because Trump was using it as such.

This, however, is the crux of the issue: Twitter is a private company that explicitly notes in its user agreement that it holds full authority over whatever content a user may place on its platform. Citing that user agreement, National Review’s David French observes, “There is no [Twitter user] ‘control’ at all, temporary or otherwise. … There is instead a public official using a private platform to attempt to amplify his specific message, with the permission of the entity that controls the platform. The court’s ruling, in this circumstance, represents government intervention in Twitter’s control of its own service. The court is overriding the permissions Twitter gave its own user.”

Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey makes another cogent point about First Amendment rights: “It doesn’t necessarily follow that I’m forced to listen to [certain speech], either, nor are public officials. The First Amendment guarantees the right to speak, not a right to an audience.” Trump blocking critics on his Twitter account does not block them from Twitter itself, nor does it prevent them from seeing his posts. He is simply refusing to allow hecklers and trolls to post comments on his Twitter feed. Hecklers and trolls are removed from public speeches, too.

For the record, we have criticized Trump’s Twitter habits before, and, frankly, were he not such a troll on the platform, this case likely wouldn’t have made it to the courts in the first place.

Meanwhile, the court’s ruling brings into question the censoring practices that Twitter and other social-media platforms have increasingly engaged in. If Twitter serves merely as a public forum, then is not its censorship practice a violation of Americans’ First Amendment rights?

There is no word yet as to whether Trump will seek to appeal the ruling, as he has already been in compliance with the district court’s ruling. But keep an eye on his Twitter feed…

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