July 11, 2017

The Knight First Amendment Institute has filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump and his communication teams, alleging that they’re violating the Constitution by blocking people on Twitter.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Southern District of New York today on behalf of seven individuals blocked by the @realdonaldtrump account, seeks to have the court determine that Trump’s exclusion of people from his Twitter feed is an unconstitutional viewpoint-based discrimination of speech, according to a press release sent to Poynter.

“President Trump’s Twitter account has become an important source of news and information about the government, and an important forum for speech by, to, or about the president,” said Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute’s executive director, in the release. “The First Amendment applies to this digital forum in the same way it applies to town halls and open school board meetings. The White House acts unlawfully when it excludes people from this forum simply because they’ve disagreed with the president.”

The lawsuit comes a month after the Knight Institute, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization established by Columbia University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, sent a letter to President Trump suggesting that it would take legal action if he did not unblock individuals who had been blocked because of their views.

In Tuesday’s press release, the Knight Institute said that since the Trump administration has promoted the @realdonaldtrump account as a primary communication channel between the president and the public — sometimes declaring tweets to be official statements —  it constitutes a public forum protected by the First Amendment. Since blocking people from the Twitter account prevents them from reading Trump’s tweets, responding directly or engaging in discussion threads, it violates users’ constitutional free speech rights — as well as their right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, according to the release.

The Knight Institute’s lawsuit also contends that the White House has violated the rights of people who have not been blocked on Twitter because they can only participate in a public forum that has been purged of critical voices, according to the press release.

“The White House is transforming a public forum into an echo chamber,” said Katie Fallow, a senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute, in the release. “Its actions violate the rights of the people who’ve been blocked and the rights of those who haven’t been blocked but who now participate in a forum that’s being sanitized of dissent.”

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Daniel Funke is a staff writer covering online misinformation for PolitiFact. He previously reported for Poynter as a fact-checking reporter and a Google News Lab…
Daniel Funke

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