President Donald Trump has run into an interesting roadblock this week in his effort to turn his time in the White House into a uniquely egocentric operation. According to a unanimous decision from a three judge panel at the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, he is not allowed under the First Amendment of the Constitution to block people on Twitter who he disagrees with, which he has done numerous times while in office. According to the judges, his Twitter feed constitutes a 21st Century public forum for his presidency, and blocking people from that forum is discriminatory. They upheld a lower court ruling delivered last May by U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan.
The Appeals Court shared:
‘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 dialog because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.’
The case was brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University on behalf of just over half a dozen people that the president had blocked on Twitter. Despite the Justice Department railing against Buchwald’s previous ruling as supposedly “fundamentally misconceived,” they can not get away from the fact that Trump does in fact use his personal Twitter feed for key announcements related to his presidency. He’s gotten so extreme and drastic on his feed that he has now at least twice threatened an adversarial country with annihilation on the platform! What if a soldier in the reserves would like to know right away whether they might get called up to fight in some overseas struggle? It’s an extreme example — but so is Trump when it comes to presidents, and it illustrates the point.
Ironically, Trump has himself expressed (unfounded) public concern about access to his account, essentially confirming that it’s part of an attention-worthy public forum. Without producing essentially any evidence, he has repeatedly claimed that people have struggled to “join” — meaning follow — his account, and he has turned this possible simple technical glitch into supposed evidence of some deeply rooted conspiracy among social media companies against conservatives. It’s not that deep though.
Also ironically, Trump’s Twitter engagement has actually fallen throughout his time in office, even as the pace with which he’s posted to the platform has increased. Although in the six months ending in late May, he tweeted an average of 284 times a month, his engagements hit a level corresponding to only 0.16 percent of his actual following. That’s down from an engagement rate of a little over 0.5 percent that he had on the platform the month he was elected.
Still, there’s no sign Trump is going to give up the Twitter habit anytime soon. The 2020 presidential campaign is just getting into full swing at this point, and two of the top Democratic contenders (Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden) have polled as much as 10 percent ahead in hypothetical general election match-ups. In other words, Trump has a lot of work to do.
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