It’s barely a blip on most pundits’ radar. But there are tremendously important implications of a ruling today that the President cannot block users on Twitter. And the White House argument that it’s his “personal” Twitter account combined with the court ruling means a lot to many more politicians.
But before we get into why, here’s a recap from Fox News:
In a Tuesday decision, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals noted that because Trump uses Twitter to communicate with the public about his administration, and his account is open to the public for people to comment on his posts, it warrants constitutional free speech protection under the First Amendment.
“We do conclude,” the opinion said, “that 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.”
The reason this is a big deal is because it positions Twitter as a public platform for political information when used by government officials for official business… which can be just about anything. Unless allthey do is post pictures of their kids and root for their favorite sports team, it’s hard to make an argument that it’s not a public forum protected by the 1st Amendment. Though the White House claims it’s his “personal” account, there have been many instances in which the President has posted official decisions through Twitter. Sometimes, the first time his own team hears about a new policy is through his Twitter account.
This should apply to every government official, elected or not. Even bureaucrats who post a political opinion must be included in this since they are part of government and suppression of speech must be protected. When a public official blocks someone, they are preventing that American from having the same access to communicate with government officials as anyone not blocked.
But there’s another important implication here. If Twitter users are protected by the 1st Amendment from being blocked by the President and presumably other public officials, what other 1st Amendment protections should apply? Many Twitter users utilize Twitter as a means of public expression for their thoughts. One would think that as long as it’s given platform protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, then the only speech that should be censored in any way on Twitter is speech that breaks specific laws. Saying something unpopular like “boys are boys and girls or girls” or “learn to code” would therefore be allowable.
Personally, I’ve gone back and forth on this issue. On one hand, I am well aware that big tech companies are purging, censoring, and silencing conservatives and Christians and must be stopped. On the other hand, I am eternally skeptical of government involvement in, well, anything. I didn’t see an angle in which this could be turned into a 1st Amendment issue even with big tech companies having platform protection because they’re still private companies and the government isn’t involved.
Except now, they are. The angle is apparent.
If politicians are using this as a public forum in the eyes of the judiciary, then private citizens have an avenue they can take to protect their own speech. Again, it’s imperative that we do not allow DC to regulate social media platforms, which was always my greater fear than social media censorship. But with this development, perhaps we can have our cake (freedom on social media) and eat it to (1st Amendment protections without getting legislation or regulations involved).
This really could be a very good thing even if the White House is opposed.
“The irony in all of this is that we write at a time in the history of this nation when the conduct of our government and its officials is subject to wide‐open, robust debate.” – Second Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling
It isn’t just the President’s Twitter account that will be affected by this ruling. At the very least, other politicians will be forced to comply. In a best-case-scenario, free speech may end up being protected on these platforms for all of us.
We are currently forming the American Conservative Movement. If you are interested in learning more, we will be sending out information in a few weeks.
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