US

Judge considering whether Trump violates critics' free speech by blocking them on Twitter

A federal judge is considering if Trump violates the free speech rights of Twitter users if blocks them on his account. (Mandel Ngan/Getty Images)

A federal judge is considering whether President Donald Trump is violating the free speech rights of Twitter users if he blocks them from following his @realDonaldTrump account.

During a hearing in Manhattan federal court, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald asked Trump’s lawyer, Michael Baer, whether it is constitutional for Trump to block users from his Twitter account.

Is Trump's Twitter similar to a 'town hall'?

In a Reuters news report, Buchwald suggested Twitter is similar to a public town hall meeting. In public forums, government officials cannot unplug a microphone or mute speakers simply because a person is saying something they don’t like, she said.

“Once it is a public forum, you can’t shut somebody up because you don’t like what they’re saying,” Buchwald said.

Baer said Twitter is not a good analogy for a town hall. Blocking someone on Twitter is more like Trump choosing to walk away from someone at a public event, he said.

“The president has an associational interest in deciding who he’s going to spend his time with in that setting,” Baer said.

Was a lawsuit filed?

The hearing about Trump’s Twitter account was held because he requested the dismissal of a lawsuit filed in July by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and several Twitter users.

According to the lawsuit, Trump’s Twitter account is a public forum and he can’t block users because they “criticize, mock or disagree” with him in response to his tweets.

Trump’s Twitter account has 49 million followers draws intense interest for his no-holds-barred commentary and attacks on critics. Tweets from his account are often retweeted tens of thousands of times. Trump's tweets also routinely become news items.

Baer, a U.S. Department of Justice attorney, also argued that Trump’s Twitter account is personal and not an official government action.

But Katherine Fallow, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said Trump's use of his Twitter account “shows unambiguously that the president operates his account in an official capacity.”

Trump often uses Twitter to announce policies or policy proposals, Fallow said.

One Twitter, users post small text messages called tweets, and other users can respond. When a user blocks someone, the blocked user can respond, but the person who instituted the block will not see the response.

It is not known when Buchwald will make a ruling.

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