U.S. President Donald Trump may not "block" Twitter users and those commenting on his tweets, a U.S. Federal Judge has ruled.
District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan, New York ruled that blocking access to the U.S. President’s @realDonaldTrump account would be a violation of the right to free speech of Americans. Trump currently has 52.2 million followers on this account of the social media platform which he uses extensively to communicate with, rather than using the official @POTUS twitter handle.
The case was brought by The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University on behalf of seven Twitter users who had been blocked by Trump for criticising him or mocking him online. On Wednesday the judge agreed with their argument that the social media platform qualifies as a "designated public forum" granted to all U.S. citizens.
"This case requires us to consider whether a public official may, consistent with the First Amendment, 'block' a person from his Twitter account in response to the political views that person has expressed, and whether the analysis differs because that public official is the President of the United States," the judge said in her opinion.
"The answer to both questions is no."
The judge rejected the argument by the President’s lawyers that the "First Amendment does not apply in this case and that the President's personal First Amendment interests supersede those of plaintiffs".
Earlier in the trial, Judge Buchwald suggested the president, who was not in court, could simply mute the accounts he does not want to see. But if Trump muted an account, he would not see that user's tweets but the user could still see and respond to his.
It is unclear if Trump would unblock those he had blocked and the judge did not explicitly rule on that. However, she said, "because all government officials are presumed to follow the law once the judiciary has said what the law is, we must assume that the President [and his social media director] will remedy the blocking we have held to be unconstitutional". She added, "no government official -- including the President -- is above the law, and all government officials are presumed to follow the law as has been declared."
The judge's ruling is a landmark one as there are few laws governing interaction in the social media space. With political leaders increasingly using social media tools to reach out to their base, it is important to understand how and why they should be brought under the law of the land.