White House Blocks Twitter Account In Apparent Violation Of Court Order

President Donald Trump and the White House appear to have violated a 2019 federal court order that it cannot block twitter accounts from the official White House account, @realDonaldTrump, based in the content of its tweets.  The account, @realDonaldTrFan, has over 313,000 followers and savages the President regularly with parodies. If the site was blocked as reported, the action would be a flagrant disregarding of the authority of the federal courts.

The banned site made fun of Trump saying that he he was now taking Hydroxychloroquine:

Donald J. Trump          ᵖᵃʳᵒᵈʸ@realDonaldTrFan

President Trump blocked the Parody Trump twitter account @realDonaldTrFan, even though the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the 1st Amendment forbids Trump from using Twitter’s Block Feature. Is this PROOF that Hydroxychloroquine causes mental confusion in Low-IQ Presidents?

View image on Twitter

The action is precisely what the Second Circuit described as a core violation of the First Amendment.

In that case, Knight First Amendment Institute v. Donald J. Trump, the Second Circuit easily established that the White House account is an official public account, archived with other official material, and operated by public employees.  The Supreme Court has held that “public forums are places that the government has opened for use by the public as a place for expressive activity.” Denver Area Educ. Telecommunications Consortium, Inc. v. F.C.C., 518 U.S. 727, 749 (1996) (plurality opinion). Likewise, in Manhattan Community Access Corp. et al. v. Halleck et al., 587 U.S. __ 8 (2019) the Court stated that “When the government provides a forum for speech (known as a public forum), the government may be constrained by the First Amendment, meaning that the government ordinarily may not exclude speech or speakers from the forum on the basis of viewpoint . . . .”

While the President insisted that this was his private account, the court noted that “[a]t oral argument, however, the government conceded that the Account is not ‘independent of [Trump’s] presidency,’ choosing instead to argue only that the act of blocking was not state action.”  There were other determinative concessions: “The President concedes that he blocked the Individual Plaintiffs because they posted tweets that criticized him or his policies.  He also concedes that such criticism is protected speech.”

The question then became a simple one: the right of the President to exclude citizens from public spaces due to their criticism of his policies.  For those of us in the civil liberties and free speech communities, the ruling was an important reaffirmation of core constitutional values.  The White House was wrong to bar the accounts and the Justice Department was working against our defining free speech principles in the litigation.

The Second Circuit held:

“If the Account is a forum—public or otherwise—viewpoint discrimination 9 is not permitted.  … A blocked account is prevented from viewing any of the President’s tweets, replying to those tweets, retweeting them, or liking them.  Replying, retweeting, 15 and liking are all expressive conduct that blocking inhibits.  Replying and retweeting are messages that a user broadcasts, and, as such, undeniably are speech.  Liking a tweet conveys approval or acknowledgment of a tweet and is 18 therefore a symbolic message with expressive content.  … Significantly, the parties agree that all of this expressive conduct is communicated to the thousands of users who interact with the Account.  By blocking the Individual Plaintiffs and preventing them from viewing, retweeting, replying to, and liking his tweets, the President excluded the Individual Plaintiffs from a public forum, something the First Amendment prohibits.”

The Second Circuit concluded with a reaffirmation of the free speech principles often stated on this blog and other free speech sites that the solution to bad speech is more speech:  “In resolving this appeal, we remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”

There is obviously a right to monitor comments on sites, including government sites, though the range of such regulation is more abridged when done by the government. This site for example reserves the right to remove personal threats as well as clearly racist, anti-Semitic, and other offensive comments. We tend to err on the side of not removing comments given the free speech emphasis on the site.  The issue is more acute when the government is creating a public forum but removing those who protest or criticize its policies.  It is hard to imagine how a court would tolerate such censorship under the sweeping arguments of the White House. It would allow the government to create new forms of public forums to engage in raw censorship.

Strangely, the unwarranted and unconstitutional action of the White House will only serve to draw more people to this site and encourage more such parodies on the White House site.  Given the massive size of the White House site, it is bizarre that the President or his aides would even care about a droplet in an ocean of tweets. Moreover, the President can (and often does) respond in kind. That is the wonderful thing about free speech: it contains its own corrective element with more speech.

This would appear a flagrant violation of both the earlier court order and the First Amendment. After the opinion, blocking decisions should have been subject to a careful process laid out by the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s office in light of the earlier decision. Hopefully, there will be corrective action from the White House and an immediate demand for injunctive relief.

55 thoughts on “White House Blocks Twitter Account In Apparent Violation Of Court Order”

  1. ‘appears to’ joins alleges and reportedly in the panoply of words meaning… unproven.

  2. Trump Doesn’t Have To Use Twitter

    And He Probably Shouldn’t

    If Donald Trump is uncomfortable with having having his Tweets trolled, he should refrain from using Twitter. No president before Trump used this form of communication. It’s not like Twitter is an essential form of presidential announcements.

    But Trump uses Twitter because he wants to bypass mainstream media. So instead of having mainstream media filter his announcements with their commentaries, Trump gets a direct response from critics less kind than mainstream media. That’s the nature of the Twitter beast.

    1. Unfortunately Twitter is selective with its rules of engagement. Either there should be NO blocking (except for profanity/pornography) or anyone should be able to block what they want. Not this biased and random in-between.

  3. I think he has the emergency power to do this. Screw the courts, many are shut down and the SC is meeting electronically.

    1. Paul – Someone flushed a toilet in the SCOTUS arguments over the phone.

      😆

      Who was it? There are only so many options.

      1. WW33 – at least they flushed. My money is on whomever is most familial with technology. Not naming any names.

  4. It amazes me how readily many fail to parse constitutional issues when politics are involved. That said, Twitter is a privately owned company that awards free space to the public in hope of creating an advertisement rich environment. It’s not owned by government and has no “official capacity,” in whole or part.

    Trump’s account isn’t owned by the public, it isn’t owned by the people – Twitter owns the account, not the federal government – and Twitter decides what its users do. And it has decided, in supposed accordance with legal parameters, that its users can block others.

    This idea, the concept of both public and private accounts, public versus private accounts, is ridiculous, because you cannot separate the person from the person.

    Trump is not Trump? He is a president here, not a president there? Do you really believe Trump could say anything, anywhere, in a “non-official” capacity?

    That said, there is NO WAY anyone can logically conclude that Trump’s twitter account is anything BUT a personal and private account. Does it look like the People’s account to you? Does the public “own” this account? Does anyone other than Twitter own this account? Again, Twitter has no governmental capacity, it is therefore incapable of awarding any “official” status or capacity to a president; likewise the account does not belong to the People.

    To suggest that a president cannot block people from an “official” account, is to likewise suggest he CAN block people from his private or non-official account. We all know he can, because it falls within policy options awarded to all. What then would prevent Donald Trump from tweeting only from his personal account? Further, are not Donald Trump’s official words, as thoughts expressed, his private words as well? Is public speech not private speech? How does one discern here, the public from the private speech?

    Further, does Donald Trump, the public figure, forfeit all privately-held individual rights? Is Trump, in his official capacity, to forfeit rights awarded to you and I? And only, incidentally, in his official capacity?

    To suggest, as the court did, that denial of access to speech, is a denial of one’s “free speech,” or that the inability to retweet or reiterate the speech of another, is a violation of one’s free speech, is ludicrous. Free speech is an individual right, it protects thoughts or feelings expressed, by we alone. It has nothing to do whatsoever with another’s receptive ability. Nor are there any rights that extend to receptive ability. There is no inherent right to hear speech that I am aware of.

    This decision was but another example of the lower-courts stretching the limits of language, of all logic and rationale, to politically oppose. And its ruling is” unconstitutional” on all fronts. To put this another way – “they be fronting” for The Man, and that man is NOT Donald Trump.

    Wholly unconstitutional ruling… !

  5. “President Donald Trump and the White House appear to have violated a 2019 federal court order that it cannot block twitter accounts from the official White House account …”
    **************************
    Any proof Trump did this besides the words of a Leftist clown?

  6. This would bother me a lot more if the leftist high priests at facebook, twitter, youtube, etc weren’t already infringing on the first-amendment rights of users that don’t show proper deference to the Grand Narrative.

    As things stand, I’m kind of glad to see some push back in the other direction for once.

    1. Em, you should take not that FB blocked an ad from the mild mannered never -Trumper group The Lincoln Project for a misquote as rated by Politifact. Apparently FB is not a one way street on this practice.

  7. He’s probably wrong, but I put “blocking someone on Twitter” as sort of minor peccadillo. I am not going to freak out over it in the midst of sedition by the intelligence agencies.

    But, that being said, he should unblock them.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  8. For anyone, including any member of the democrat party, to even mention the rule of law is not only hypocritical, it is laughable if not ludicrous.

  9. Phyllis, you’re not exactly Ms Sweetness and Light around here, so I’ll take your comment as coming from experience.

  10. violated a 2019 federal court order that it cannot block twitter accounts from the official White House account, @realDonaldTrump, based in the content of its tweets.

    Good. The court order was absurd. Our judiciary are awful and merit the pitchforks-and-peasants treatment.

    1. Absurd– “The court order was absurd. Our judiciary are awful and merit the pitchforks-and-peasants treatment.”

      I was slow coming around, but I agree with you. By their bizarre actions the judiciary is becoming increasingly despisable.

  11. My guess is Prof Turley may be just trying often to provoke constructive conversation rather then just pissing people off, but I’m not sure of his motives?

    At this point many of us want to be Trump supporters are very, very pissed at Trump for not dealing with correcting our !st Amd Free Speech “Rights” under the FCA 1996 Sec 230 CDA.

    That Twitter, Facebook, Google+Ytube, Apple, etc. are no longer public commons where people can speak freely but now they are “Pubishers” who no long have any rights for the immunity clause granted under FCA sec 230 CDA.

    I that’s the guts of at least one section of the arguments JT maybe you could enlighten the rest of us on.

    Now I can get back to what you wrote after your inflammatory rhetoric… “If the site was blocked as reported, the action would be a flagrant disregarding of the authority of the federal courts.”

    LOL From the grave of Andrew Jackson… What Authority of these out of control federal courts?

    https://www.minclaw.com/legal-resource-center/what-is-section-230-of-the-communication-decency-act-cda/

  12. Off topic:. Deaths in America. 480,000 plus from smoking tobacco. 48,000 die from second hand smoke.
    The coronavirus won’t come close to this.
    The smokers are dumb and the media is lame.

    1. Smoking isn’t a contagious disease. If a smoker sneezes next to you, it doesn’t put you at risk of dying from smoking-related illness. If someone is dying from a smoking-related illness, that doesn’t keep loved ones from being with that person in the hospital as a comfort. If someone has died from a smoking-related illness, that doesn’t keep loved ones from coming together at a funeral. …

    2. Deaths in America. 480,000 plus from smoking tobacco. 48,000 die from second hand smoke.
      The coronavirus won’t come close to this.
      __________________________________________________________
      Covid19 will likely far exceed deaths from smoking. Smoking doesn’t kill you right away and often neither does covid.
      For every one person that dies now from covid there may be as many as 10 more that suffer permanent damage to lungs, heart, liver, brain, kidneys and vascular system that will eventually shorten their life just as smoking does. Eventually the death toll from covid may be well over one million.

      1. Pump those numbers up, all the predictions spectacularly failed, and now the land of the free and the home of the brave is the land of hyper busy body psycho and the home of cowardly slave.
        It’s just the flu, and the idiot government has you.

  13. “This site for example reserves the right to remove personal threats as well as clearly racist, anti-Semitic, and other offensive comments. We tend to err on the side of not removing comments given the free speech emphasis on the site.”

    Then you should update your Civility Rule. You fail to remove offensive comments all the time, many of them personal attacks directed from one commenter towards another (or even attacks from a group of commenters ganging up on someone else), some of them containing more general bigotry, such as homophobia.

    1. Huh, I can’t fathom why you weren’t whining from the back seat at Jack Dorsey. Oh gosh, I just lied.

  14. I agree with the President. Twits are people who defame. Let em write on shithouse walls but that’s it for nitwits.

  15. He can dish it out but, unfortunately he is unable to take criticism. He needs to keep his mouth shut or accept the consequences of his tweets will not appeal to everyone and some will tell him what they think but the first amendment is clear free speech is protected.

    1. You say “It’s absurd,” but your comparison is erroneous.

      The First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech…”

      This is a restriction on government actions / protection against *government* censorship. It doesn’t restrict the actions of private companies like Twitter.

      That’s the reason that the court had to determine whether Trump’s Twitter account constituted a government account; had it not been a government account, he could have blocked people for their views, just like other Twitter users can block others. As for Owens, Twitter has Terms of Service, and users can choose whether to sign up for that service in light of those Terms. If Owens doesn’t like Twitter’s ToS, she doesn’t have to use it. But she doesn’t get to use it contrary to their ToS.

  16. Why is this a surprise? Lawless and reckless, that about sums up the Trump Administration.

    1. I hate the president – he needs to put down the phone, get off the bed and do his job. That doesn’t include thinking about himself and his petty vendettas all day.

      1. He did his job in January by shutting down travel from China and in typical fashion he was promptly called a “racist.” At least he’s not hiding in his basement wetting himself.

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