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Judge Rules Trump Can’t Block People on Twitter (bloomberg.com)
291 points by lumisota 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 341 comments



Wait, any public official? So the elected school board members in my town can't block me on Twitter if I go on crazy racist tirades, as long as they're political in nature? How about the dogcatcher? He can't block PETA animal rights screed accounts? And doesn't being forced to let cranks interact with prominent accounts increase those cranks' visibility? Is that forcing the prominent person to promote speech with which they disagree?

I think there's a lot of nuance this opinion doesn't address.


We have a very broad "right to petition" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_petition) our representatives and executives. Yes, the school board must listen to your crazy rants, because it's literally their job to represent you, or at least to be aware that your views exist.


Your school board doesn't have to listen. They can put headphones on and hum loudly through your speech if they like. They just can't prevent you from talking to them.

Equivalently, the judge seems to have concluded that the President muting someone on Twitter is fine, but blocking them is not.


Well, Teump can't block someone because it's been defined his Twitter account is official policy of the President. The same would be true for any government official who's account is defined as such.

If it were a personal account, with personal views being posted, blocking would be fine. You could probably even make your account private and only allow approved followers. But, that's not the case here.


> Wait, any public official? So the elected school board members in my town can't block me on Twitter if I go on crazy racist tirades, as long as they're political in nature?

Application of the same rule applief here to local officials actually preceded this decision.

> I think there's a lot of nuance this opinion doesn't address.

Trial court decisions are not legislation—or even appellate decision where there is a need except in unusual circumstances to articulate a reusable rule. They tend to apply law narrowly to the facts of the case in front of them, not address nuance involving hypothetical circumstances not at issue.


No. The public official can still mute them so they don't see they. The public official doesn't have to interact. But they cannot keep someone from accessing their feed when they use it for politics. They still have the right to access the information directly.

These same people can right letters, after all. The politician doesn't have to read these letters nor respond to them. But in doing so, they can't keep people from sending letters nor stop them from getting information about the office.

In short: When they use their tech for political motives, the politician's want to block people doesn't overturn the people's right to get information from the source, be it twitter or a press release on the government's website.


Public officials who have accounts considered “public forums” which are open to strongest first amendment protections.


Maybe this will lead to the end of twitter use by public officials :)


I'm not sure about the school board; having to consider (or at least read) all public feedback doesn't extend far "below" governor AFAIK.

> can't block me on Twitter if I go on crazy racist tirades

If they did have to read it (again, not sure), they wouldn't be forced to retweet it. So some poor soul would have to read that vitriol but you wouldn't be defacing their profile.


They could create there own webpage capable of displaying hundreds of bytes worth of text and post messages there to get around this, right?


Are dog catchers public officials? Here they are contracted by the city. That's a pretty big difference.


It depends on the local government structure. I've lived in places where the "head dog catcher" was indeed an elected post.

In other places it is an appointment by the local board of commissioners or mayor, making it a public position. In still others, like your example, it's a contract position the local government bids on like any other contractor.


You should try attending a city council session sometime. You'd be amazed at what council members put up with.


I have. Oy.


IANAL... would this apply to government officials who maintain a private account and use a government account for work? In Trump's case (and Haley, and many others), he uses his personal account for business. And the President could be an edge case, and simply unable to separate private and business messages. The local dog catcher should be able to maintain that separation.


No, it would not apply to a private account not used for official government business.

I think there’s a separate argument as to whether the President can actually separate public and private statements, not that Trump has made any attempt to do so - he has been clear that his posts on his personal feed represent official statements from his office.


> this opinion

do you mean techcrunch article's opinion or the judicial opinion?


The judicial opinion, from the excerpts I found, didn't look inclined to address any of these questions.


This seems wrong on the face of it. The judge asks the rhetorical question of whether the logic changes based on whether he's president or not, and he answers his question with a "No". So this is saying that no public official can block others on Twitter. That seems like it's in the "suicide pact" column of rights defense, but then I'm not one that cares about Twitter personally. Just seems that plenty of other forums and even avenues on Twitter for expression remain after blockage from one person's feed. And given that blocking is part and parcel to the app, it would seem like everyone is buying into the terms of the environment when they start using it. Curious how this shakes out to other mediums.


The limitations on government speech restrictions in public forums (including private venues used by government as such) are not new to this case [0], nor is it the first case (though it is by far the highest profile one) finding that those restrictions on government behavior apply to social media accounts controlled by government officials and agencies. [1]

[0] https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/criminal/what-s-a-public-...

[1] http://amp.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2017/07/28/federal_c...


> And given that blocking is part and parcel to the app, it would seem like everyone is buying into the terms of the environment when they start using it

That isn't how this works. Just because Twitter allows people to block stuff, doesn't mean Trump gets to block stuff.

In a "normal" government, they'd pick a vendor with software that would let them make official policy statements in a way that complied with the laws around people having the right to reach out to their government officials.

Just 'cause twitter's software lets him do something doesn't make actually doing that thing legal, moral, or ethical.

This judgement makes perfect sense and is completely reasonable when you remember that technology is a mere tool designed to serve humans. Just cause you can do something in a tool doesn't make it right.


> This judgement makes perfect sense and is completely reasonable when you remember that technology is a mere tool designed to serve humans. Just cause you can do something in a tool doesn't make it right.

Put more plainly:

The judgement makes perfect sense once you understand that government officials' actions are regulated in ways that private citizens' actions are not. If a government official uses a tool designed for private citizens, his actions may still be restricted compared to what private citizens can legally do.


Oh common.

Spam and a harassment is a problem. Let the people he blocks make a new account to follow him or open an incognito window.


> Spam and a harassment is a problem.

To the extent that's true, they aren't problems that require viewpoint censorship to combat.


> Spam and a harassment is a problem. Let the people he blocks make a new account to follow him or open an incognito window.

The ruling would be completely different if he was still private citizen Trump. He'd be free to block whomever he chose.

But he is President Trump and he's the one who chose to make his own private Twitter account function as his Presidential outlet to the world. So, different rules apply.

He had a perfectly good presidential Twitter account, but he's the one who chose to not use it. Let the chips fall where they may.


No. He can mute them. But they should not be any more inconvenienced than anyone else who follows him.


Then they can still respond. I'm no fan of Trump, but I understand wanting to reduce the noise in my Twitter feed.


Of course they can - and he can mute them and never see their responses. Practically the same as a block from Trumps point of view but without the legal problem.


Right, but he's not going to see it. But regardless of whether or not Trump wants that noise on his twitter feed, he's stuck with it for as long as it's an official government account.


We have the right to petition our government to redress grievances. As a public official, the bar for harassment is higher - for the President, I don't believe anything sent over twitter could be harassment.


Death threats?


I wonder how many death threats Trump receives over Twitter and if that makes any significant portion of the total amounts of threats. (Plus now you entered the territory of "threaten a public official with death" which gets the high ranking legal authorities into gear)


I honestly have no idea; this was a hypothetical specifically meant to address the assertion that "for the President, I don't believe anything sent over twitter could be harassment."


so next democrat president I can write a harassment, err I mean opinion, bot to post useless opinions to everything they say blocking people with real discussion from having their floor time? OK, noted.


Yes! You can! Look at the twitter feeds of pretty much any elected official. Automated lobbyists won't have quite the reach of human ones, but it's still a worthwhile endeavor if that's something you care about.


> Let the people he blocks make a new account to follow him or open an incognito window.

That's not how this works.

Trump a big boy playing a big boy game now. He can't just block anybody he wants on twitter and expect them to create a new account. What if that twitter handle he blocks is a well known journalist or something? You expect that person to create a new account just to call him out or retweet his stuff?

Seriously, spend 5 minutes and think about what you are arguing. You are saying that citizens might need to go into incognito mode to view the presidents posts because the president of the united states blocked their twitter account! Say that out loud and tell me how that isn't scary as hell. Governments should not do that sort of thing. That reads almost like a dystopian future sci-fi novel or something.

Yes there are spammers, bots and others and absolutely it is a hard problem to somehow filter out the non-human garbage that gets posted while also fulfilling your ethical and legal obligations to allow all citizens to participate in a democratic government. Who knows if that is even a solvable problem.


Most politicians don't use their Twitter feed to make policy, like Trump does. If you run a widget business, and Trump makes a tweet that says, "I ban all widgets, especially widget company x", you should have the right to see that from the source.

That's the distinction the judge made - Trump uses his feed as an official government policy mouthpiece.


A mouthpiece yes, but an official way to "make policy" no. Policy is still created through official means like signing executive orders, etc.


They count as official statements by the POTUS. No different if he were to go on TV, Radio, etc and make an announcement/proclamation.

These statements can have legal power behind them such as declassifying documents.


Is there a way to make a public statement as the POTUS that doesn't have legal force? Can the person who is the POTUS speak "as the man" rather than speaking "as the role"?


As far as I can tell, that's how President Obama used his personal Twitter account vs. the @POTUS twitter account. One was personal and the other official. The Trump administration has explicitly chosen not to draw that line (for whatever reason), which is what leads inevitably to decisions like this.


> A mouthpiece yes, but an official way to "make policy" no

Sorry but you are wrong. Trump's administration has stated that his tweets are official statements. Meaning, he can't block people who reply to his tweets.

https://www.cnn.com/2017/06/06/politics/trump-tweets-officia...


Huh, I stand corrected. Good find.


See also @RealPressSecBot, which hammers home the point:

https://twitter.com/RealPressSecBot

For those who don't want to click, it collects Trump's tweets in real-ish time, and reframes them into images of official-looking messages. The latest one as of the time I post this comment begins:

    THE WHITE HOUSE
    Office of the Press Secretary
    
    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    May 23, 2018
    
    Statement by the President
And then puts the text of Trump's tweet immediately below.



> So this is saying that no public official can block others on Twitter. That seems like it's in the "suicide pact" column of rights defense

Well, the important part is that the judge stuck it to Trump. That’s really all that matters to some people.


Let's forget about how polarizing he is for one minute: I would make the argument that he is the one who made his Twitter feed a public forum when he encouraged people to follow him to get information. It follows that public discourse is now taking place where the tools allow people to respond.


> That seems like it's in the "suicide pact" column of rights defense

Not if you consider the nature of a public official. It's not that Trump is The President, he's A President - one of many in a line stretching back to George Washington and hopefully, stretching forward for millennia to come. There's nothing singular or unique about his occupation of that office (well, hopefully you get my meaning there).

As such, he should be expected to behave by the laws governing the office, not the laws governing the individual in the office.

It would be different if he were a king, whose rights and powers supposedly descend from God (at least in European tradition). First, he would be making the laws up, possibly from the whole cloth, and second, a king, by divine right, is answerable to none but himself and God.


Surely that must mean that Twitter banning people is also a violation of the first amendment, since that prevents them from accessing the same "public square" this ruling is protecting their access to.


The first amendment doesn't apply to Twitter (the company). It applies to governments.


If your account gets banned, you're unable to communicate with the government (since it is established that Twitter is the president's official communication medium). Wouldn't it thus be a violation of the first amendment?


> If your account gets banned.... Wouldn't it thus be a violation of the first amendment?

Not unless the government is the entity doing the banning (or collaborating with Twitter to ban accounts at its request).

If the government ran its own Mastodon instance, then there would be an argument to be made that it couldn't ban users on that Mastodon instance, depending on the nature of that Mastodon instance and what it's used for. But that's not what's happening. The government does not run Twitter in any way; they're simply users of the platform, and the government's ability to use features of the platform (such as the "block" feature) may be limited by existing laws, the same way the government's ability to do other things in life is limited by existing laws.


Can we use a more common example?

If one of the ways to interact with the executive branch is by calling the white house, wouldn't telecoms banning you from having a phone number be a more similar analogy?


> If one of the ways to interact with the executive branch is by calling the white house, wouldn't telecoms banning you from having a phone number be a more similar analogy?

No, because that's not what this ruling does. This ruling says that the White House can't block incoming calls from a specific number.

(Though even that's not really a great analogy, because phone numbers are not considered to correspond uniquely or permanently to an individual the way that social media accounts are).


You always have the option to communicate with the government via first-class letter delivered by the US Postal Service, or by showing up in person during the openly published hours of operation.

If the government, for some reason, decided to only communicate via telephone calls, there would still be no duty on any private phone company to provide anyone with the ability to call the government. The government would implicitly require itself to start up and operate a public telephone company, so that any person unwilling or unable to make phone calls via a private company could use it to communicate with the government instead.

In all likelihood, this would mean that VoIP phone booths would appear in every post office, and only calls from those phones to phones registered to government offices would be connected. They wouldn't even necessarily have to use phone numbers or connect to the PSTN; a .gov or .us SIP registration server would do.

For private services, if the government uses them at all, it must use them in a fair and nondiscriminatory manner. The private company has no duty to enforce this on its government users, or to police their behavior.


The parent comment was about Twitter banning individuals, not about the ruling:

> Surely that must mean that Twitter banning people is also a violation of the first amendment


> The parent comment was about Twitter banning individuals, not about the ruling:

Right, and it's nonsensical to apply the first amendment to Twitter, because, broadly speaking, users don't have standing to make First Amendment claims against a private entity like Twitter.

If Twitter is banning people in a problematic way, or in problematic numbers, then there might be an argument that the government can't use Twitter to publish breaking news or announce policy changes. There are, in fact, separate lawsuits around this. But still, that's a far cry from saying "Twitter banning people is a violation of the First Amendment".


>Not unless the government is the entity doing the banning (or collaborating with Twitter to ban accounts at its request).

But twitter is working with the government in hosting the tweets and thus assumes responsibility to provide a public square, in which case it cannot ban people.

Otherwise government should be banned from using twitter because by picking a private company to put government messages on, the government official (in this case Trump) is picking that company's existing policy (what ever it may be) as a means of banning people, which the government isn't allowed to do.


But twitter is working with the government in hosting the tweets and thus assumes responsibility to provide a public square

No. No it doesn't. Allowing the government to use your service does not thereby make it part of the government.


So you're saying if fox news set up a 'private' website to host trump's posts and only allowed pro-trump people to comment that wouldnt violate free speech because it is a private website and the government itself isn't banning people who criticize it.


Fox News wouldn't violate the first amendment. At most, the POTUS might be prevented from using that website.

(Nitpick: "free speech" is a general philosophical concept; we're talking about the 1st Amendment, which is a particular application of one of many views on that concept)


So if Trump isn't banned from using that website, where is the difference from this case?


I'm confused, what website? The hypothetical one? Who said he wouldn't be?


> Otherwise government should be banned from using twitter because by picking a private company to put government messages on, the government official (in this case Trump) is picking that company's existing policy (what ever it may be) as a means of banning people, which the government isn't allowed to do.

Bingo.

I'm assuming you're a developer. Have you ever wanted to leverage a piece of code, say GPL licensed, that does everything you want it to, checks off all of the development boxes, would make your life amazing.... but were forced to go with something else because of compliance? Same thing here. Just because Twitter does everything functionally they need, if it forces them into situations that would run afoul of their requirements, then they're forced to go a different avenue.


You can still communicate with the government using official channels and you can still view his tweets. His account is basically write-only so you’re only losing your ability to send messages which won’t be read.


Being banned still prevents you from interacting in more ways. Trump retweets and tags people/organizations all the time.


The key here is that the Twitter is under no responsibility to facilitate your first amendment rights. The government, solely and exclusively, cannot limit your free speech; Twitter can do whatever they want, and are under no legal obligation to provide any service whatsoever to you.


I see. The user anigbrowl clarifies further below:

> Allowing the government to use your service [as its preferred way of communicating] does not thereby make it part of the government.


So you are saying the judge's ruling is wrong then. Because you can't defend twitter banning someone making them unable to respond to Trump's tweets while saying that people have the right to respond to Trump's tweets.


there are requirements government officials must honor in the Constitution due to their role, a judge can force them to honor it.

a judge doesn't have the capability, however, to force a private entity unrelated to the government to honor those same requirements.

Yes, it does create a situation where the company can impact a person's capability to see the material, but it doesn't run afoul of anything legal. If anything, it gives a reason why public officials should not use in this capacity platforms they don't control.


The text of the ruling is out now and it shows the actual rationale:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/files/2018/0...

It focuses on the impact to the blocked user’s ability to interact with those tweets and the ensuing public discussion but does not assume any obligation on Trump to read replies.


No, your understanding of it is wrong. Trump is limited from blocking people because he's the President. If he were to resign tomorrow and go back to being a private citizen, he could block away to his heart-s content. Twitter, the company, can do what it likes because it is not an organ of the government, notwithstanding the choice of some government officials to make use of it.


But you are missing the part where Trump is allowed to pick the private company, and is thus able to pick one which enforces a ToS that the government would not be able to enforce themselves. This creates a loophole where by the government only has to pick private companies that ban anyone who is against the current government to get a defacto censor on the public square that wouldn't otherwise be allowed.


I m not missing that part, because it hasn't happened yet. Imaginary injuries don't have evidentiary value, regardless of their potential possibility; thus it would be improper for a court to pronounce upon them - that's what legislators are for.

You're overlooking the fact that requiring Twitter to retroactively alter its own terms of service once it provided services to the government would be a violation of the takings clause. In your hypothetical example, it's more likely that a court would enjoin the government official from use of the company with the overly restrictive ToS for official business, rather than forcing the firm to alter its policy.


>I m not missing that part, because it hasn't happened yet.

I'm glad I don't live in a world where people refuse to prepare for court cases until the actual injury has happened. Many legal groups have built plans and arguments for potential injuries, either to test if their clients can do some behavior, or to have a proactive case against the government if the government takes some action. For example, many times when the ACLU challenges a law in court, they were planning for it long before the law actually passed. They can't engage in the actual challenge until there are injuries, but they sure can discuss it and plan for it.

In this particular instance, I'm not trying to launch an actual court case, so the court rules of when you have standing for a court case don't apply.


If you had read to the end of my post, you'd have seen the part where I addressed your objection.


Do you think federal courts would ban President Hillary from twitter because twitter has a policy of banning right-wing speech Hillary wouldnt be allowed to ban herself?


Twitter is not the only means of response.

And the ruling only applies to the President's (currently Trump) use of Twitter and says nothing about your interaction with that service.

As a private entity, they're free to make a ToS and you're free to agree or reject it, which governs your usage.


@PurbleBoxDragon - that seems more of a case that the government is leveraging a platform for purposes they should not. That isn't Twitter's fault.


But if I want to use the public forum that has been created, I'm forced to agree to those ToS. Imagine for a second if those ToS included something like banning all people from the state of New York or it banned all socialist. The government, by picking a service with a ToS to host a public forum, is there by enforcing the ToS as a requirement to participate in the public forum. So why can the government enforce a ToS that wouldn't be allowed without the 'private company' loophole?

Now, twitter banning someone from all other parts of its service wouldn't be impacted. But banning someone from participating in the public forum should no longer be allowed unless done for a reason that the government would be allowed to use as well.


If the President (doesn't matter who) showed up at your house, in your living room, would you still claim the right to deny entry to anyone you chose?

The judgement governs the President's use of Twitter, not the interaction between Twitter and other people. Twitter does not magically become a Public Forum, just because the President uses it.

Now, I'm not sure that is Right and Just, but I'm also not going to worry about it too much. I don't use it enough to get completely wound up about it.


>Twitter does not magically become a Public Forum, just because the President uses it.

If twitter isnt a public forum, then trump should be able to block whoever he wants.


>If the President (doesn't matter who) showed up at your house, in your living room, would you still claim the right to deny entry to anyone you chose?

Yes, including the ability to deny entry to anyone that Trump doesn't want there. But now a judge has ruled they have a right to be there if Trump was the one asking to ban them, but in doing so has created a loophole where as long as I want to deny them entry because Trump doesn't want them to be there (note that this isn't done on behalf of Trump, but because it is my own desire) they can be banned. It makes the judge's ruling extremely easy to work around, which indicates some fundamental problem with the ruling.


Haven't read the full decision, but here's how I see it. Governmental agencies do not instruct users to get in touch via Twitter. There are dedicated phone lines, email addresses, offices, and websites that serve that purpose in an official capacity. Agencies who do conduct business in response to inquiries on Twitter do so as an added convenience on top of the other readily available public channels.

When Trump uses Twitter as his primary method of addressing citizens and announcing administration policies, then selectively prevents citizens from viewing those communications, he's doing something much different (in my mind) than a private company restricting the access of a person to a service whose terms of use they have violated.

The equivalence you drew doesn't seem valid — US citizens have no expectation or right to send communications to the Office of the President and have them read or acted upon. They do have that expectation/right to have equal access to public communications by the President.


The parent wasn't saying that it does.

The parent was pointing out why the logic is dubious, using a reductio: if you consider Twitter[1] a public square (as the court does), and thus you can't stop people from "petitioning the government" through it, then it's a double-edged sword: they must also protect the same speech that would be protected in a public square.

It seems a more sane resolution is to treat Twitter like a private venue where an official addresses some members of the public, like the room for the Correspondents Dinner: they have no obligation to let any specific person in (esp. after they're deemed abusive). It's just that Twitter is a private venue with a much higher capacity.

The right to petition the government is not the right to petition it in every possible venue. US Citizenship or personhood does not mean you can e.g. ask questions at a press room briefing; there are filters they can apply.

[1] technically, the subset of it involving interaction with government officials


> The parent wasn't saying that it does.

Yes they were. The first amendment does not apply to Twitter. It applies to Trump. Absolutely nothing Twitter does is even capable of being a 1st Amendment issue.

Not true of Trump.


>> The parent wasn't saying that it does.

>Yes they were.

Where?

>Absolutely nothing Twitter does is even capable of being a 1st Amendment issue.

I agreed with that:

>>if you consider Twitter[1] a public square (as the court does), and thus you can't stop people from "petitioning the government" through it, then it's a double-edged sword: they must also protect the same speech that would be protected in a public square.

Do you understand the difference between "A implies B" and "A is true"? I was saying the former. I agree with you that the latter is false (where A="The first amendment applies to Twitter).

Can you help me to find the part of my original comment that made the above unclear?


> Where?

Here: "that must mean that Twitter banning people is also a violation of the first amendment"

That's... pretty darn clear.

> Can you help me to find the part of my original comment that made the above unclear?

The first two lines of your comment frame your response as counter to the position of the person you are replying to. That would be counter to you new claim that you agree it's not a 1st Amendment issue.

Disagreement with a claim followed by an argument is generally taken by readers as an argument as to why the claim is wrong, not right. Just so you know for future writing.


>Here: "that must mean that Twitter banning people is also a violation of the first amendment"

>That's... pretty darn clear.

Yes, it's clearly supporting exactly what I originally claimed: that the OP was saying this ruling implies that Twitter must do X and is therefore absurd, not that the OP thinks Twitter must do X. Again, the concept of a reductio ad absurdum, extremely common in internet forums like this one: "You claimed X, which implies Y, which is absurd. So X must be wrong."

"The first amendment doesn't apply to Twitter" doesn't engage with that at all.

>The first two lines of your comment frame your response as counter to the position of the person you are replying to. That would be counter to you new claim that you agree it's not a 1st Amendment issue.

Not when I'm objecting to the attribution and clarified specifically what I meant.

>Disagreement with a claim followed by an argument is generally taken by readers as an argument as to why the claim is wrong, not right. Just so you know for future writing.

What about when I disagree with the attribution of a claim and want to clarify someone's point? What other way could I have possibly clarified the parent's point so that you wouldn't misinterpret my comment? Just so I know for future writing.

If you just didn't read what I wrote or didn't follow the actual discussion, you should probably just own up to it and not make up some story about how there's an actual improvement possible over the original post. (FWIW, you still can't seem to think of such an improvement.)

If I may make a suggestion, the problem might be that you immediately think that any critical comment must be disagreeing with everything in that comment, even if the text of comment says otherwise, and you can therefore ignore the text. That's an error on your end to correct, and there's nothing in my writing that would fix it.


> The parent was pointing out why the logic is dubious, using a reductio: if you consider Twitter[1] a public square (as the court does

The court emphatically did not find that, and, to address the footnote:

> [1] technically, the subset of it involving interaction with government officials

Nope, not even that.

The court found the virtual space created by the @realDonaldTrump account, specifically, to be, as a result of government action, a “public forum” under existing First Amendment case law, which holds that government actions with regard to participation in such a forum are restricted by the First Amendment such that government officials may not engage in, among other things, viewpoint-based censorship of public participation in such forums.

> It seems a more sane resolution is to treat Twitter like a private venue where an official addresses some members of the public

The court hear is applying exactly the existing law of privately owned spaces in which the government opens a public interactive forum of the same type; this isn't a new rule for social media.


Alright, I'm lost. You claim that you're disagreeing and correcting my misunderstanding of the case, but it looks like you're supporting the very claims I made:

>The court emphatically did not find that [Twitter is a public square]

>>[1] technically, the subset of it involving interaction with government officials

>Nope, not even that

>The court found the virtual space created by the @realDonaldTrump account, specifically, to be, as a result of government action, a “public forum” under existing First Amendment case law,

Wait, what? You just said that the court did not find find Twitter to be a public square ... then you said that it found Twitter to be a public "forum". So... you're introducing a distinction between a public square and a public forum? It seems that obligates you to explain the difference between the two, or you're just contradicting yourself. And yet you didn't, or you expect it to be obvious, even though the chief way to resolve the disagreement would be to address precisely that distinction!

You also made a big show of objecting to my claim that the applicability was to a subset of Twitter, and then in the very next line said that the applicability is to "the virtual space created by the [Trump] account". Er ... yeah, that's a subset of Twitter!

Now, I agree I could have been more precise about the boundaries of this subset, but it seems either pedantic or confused on your part to object to that line right before you paraphrase the part of the decision that limits the applicability to a subset of Twitter! I honestly don't know what you think you're refuting there. Even if the bulk of my point is wrong, the footnote is correct insofar as it recognizes that the ruling is limited to certain government-related parts of Twitter, which you agree with.

>> It seems a more sane resolution is to treat Twitter like a private venue where an official addresses some members of the public

>The court hear is applying exactly the existing law of privately owned spaces in which the government opens a public interactive forum of the same type; this isn't a new rule for social media.

Yes, you can certainly claim that, and cite reasoning that says as much, but it's not responsive to my justification for why it doesn't make sense to begin with. As an attempt to ground my disagreement, I introduced a comparison to a press conference or the correspondent's dinner, and characterized Trump's Twitter interaction as being the same kind of thing "with more capacity". Many government pronouncements do not happen in an environment in which they have to permit everyone's comments -- certainly not announcements of new policy decisions.

I agree that you can copy-paste someone's decision that "hey, I'm calling this a public forum". But I gave a specific reason why it isn't. To further the discussion would require articulation of why that reasoning is flawed, not simply a repetition of the judge's original premises.

So, I appreciate that you think I erred and are trying to correct a mistake, but I just don't see how your comment makes headway: you're just introducing distinctions that you don't justify, denying claims and then apparently agreeing with them, and then reasserting things that I specifically objected to with reasoning without addressing said reasoning. I don't know what you expect such a comment to accomplish beyond showing that you can paraphrase a decision while not engaging with the precise objections to it.

Furthermore, the entire point of my comment was to clarify the OP's point, so any objection to the substance of said point should be directed at the OP's comment, armed with the greater clarity of their point that my comment offered, not to mine.

If your goal was to appear knowledgeable of the ruling and too informed for anyone to risk disagreeing with, your comment makes a lot more sense though. I don't find that to be as helpful as direct engagement with arguments though.


Case law would disagree. Here's a case where the Supreme court ruled that Facebook banning someone was a violation of their first amendment rights. [0] Salient quote: "Foreclosing access to social media altogether thus prevents users from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights"

Edit: as pointed out, this ruling doesn't actually disagree with what the previous comment said. It does seem similar enough to me to be relevant though so leaving it up.

[0] https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-1194_08l1.pdf


That is a restriction on lawmakers, not a restriction on Facebook. The law was found unconstitutional. Facebook didn't have to do anything here. As far as I can tell, he was never blocked or banned on Facebook's platform to begin with.


Ahh, right you are. That is an important distinction. Still, it seems a little odd to me that it results in the same thing and is treated differently. What if a government asked Facebook to ban someone and they complied, is that Facebook doing it or the government.


Government is doing it. If Facebook is doing it at the direction of a government entity and would otherwise not do it (and this is where I would expect case law to get into the contextual details of implicit/explicit direction etc) then government is acting in violation of the first amendment.


It doesn't result in the same thing. If Facebook bans someone, they can't log in. If the state bans someone, they can be fined or jailed. And in this particular case, he was banned from all social media and a bunch of other websites.


I Am A Former Lawyer: cursory reading of that judgment shows it as a case of the State of North Carolina passing a law asking it illegal for someone to use a commercial social network service. Presumably Facebook are banning a user in response to a state’s law enforcement request under State law. The Suorene Court is most likely ruling that the state law was in violation of the first amendment.


Isn't this case about North Carolina (the government) banning sex offenders from social media?


> The first amendment doesn't apply to Twitter (the company). It applies to governments.

So, hypothetically speaking... if Trump would move to a social network owned by his friend... then Trump would not be allowed to block anyone, but it would be okay if the friend would take a hint and ban the person from the whole platform?


1st isn't the right to hearing, it's the right to speech (but not specifically speaking on Twitter)


It’s actually the right for government not to ban speech. It doesn’t apply to private entities.


You're right, and both of the things we said argue that the comment I was replying to was misunderstanding the 1st amendment. I just thought it would be a short and simple way of explaining the error to the person I was responding to


they ll probably implement something like "you are banned from all twitter except trump"


That seems like cruel and unusual punishment.


but it's an easy way to deal with the trolls who will go after twitter for "blocking their access to the president"


Nope, Twitter is not a governmental organization, therefore they're not subject to the same restrictions as Trump, who is a public official.


the conditions of the ruling still apply though:"is a public forum and that blocking users on the basis of political speech is a violation of their free-speech rights under the First Amendment". Any american user should have access to that forum without obstruction, no?

It's funny how this would elevate his twitter account to unprecedented status, which means twitter will have to implement some bizarre measures.


Note that “public forum” is a term of art in First Amendment case law that refers to a venue owned or controlled by government, including a privately owned venue over which government exercises some control, made available for general or limited public discussion; the first amendment limits what government can do in such forums.

And this status is not an unprecedented one for government-controlled social media accounts; while the Trump case at issue here is the highest profile one to have reached a decision, it is not the first to find a government agency’s or official’s social media account to constitute a public forum in which viewpoint censorship by government of other users is prohibited.

Also, the decision constrains Trump's behavior on Twitter, it does not mandate any change to Twitter features.


If I was a government official and decided to host a public event at a private property which I paid for, where the private property said no women allowed (say it was a private club which allowed to do such), could I use that rules to prevent women from attending the event? Or would the rules of the private property either block me from utilizing them at all or be overridden in regards to my event?


> If I was a government official and decided to host a public event at a private property which I paid for, where the private property said no women allowed (say it was a private club which allowed to do such), could I use that rules to prevent women from attending the event?

Even if it were a public forum (which not all public events involving a government official are), I'm not sure that public forum law prohibits sex discrimination as well as viewpoint censorship. I can see an argument that it should (and that it shouldn't), but I don't recall. seeing any case law either way.


Depends on how a judge rules. You could be required to find another venue or to admit women regardless.

Either way, the fact that it is a private rule means it is not a public law. The government doesn't have to abide by laws you just made up for yourself on a whim. If I say "no shoes allowed on my private property" the police aren't forced to comply with that, so why would a government official at an event be required to comply with some inane sexist rule?


The government official isn't the police, but even more so, I'm not talking about the government official, but the random public who attends. I can say they aren't allowed on my property at which point it is a crime for them to be there.


A crime but not a felony nor even a misdemeanor. Trespass is a tort, and I think a 'civil tort'. So unless they're doing damage I don't think they owe anything for this 'crime'.


Misdemeanor here:

http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(2d5ss4y1dr2wfo0uz3r0a3zk))/...

I wouldn't bet against there being some jurisdiction where it is a felony.


If you're the gatekeeper for who can enter and leave, it wouldn't make sense to call it a public event.


The police can ignore your rules in certain special cases when they have a legal reason to enter your property without your consent. In normal circumstances, you can certainly deny them entrance if they don't take off their shoes.


No, you can deny them entrance. A "no shoes rule" would be entirely your own device and only of concern to them insofar as it gives you a (personal) reason to deny entrance. It has no legal weight.

If you permit them to enter, and you have a no shoes rule posted, they are free to enter with shoes. Because such a sign means fuck all in the world.


The First Amendment only blocks the government from restricting speech, not anyone else. A private company can limit speech. The government cannot cause or compel that private company to limit speech.

Also it's not clear to me that Twitter has to do anything with Trump's account. The judgement is against Trump, not against Twitter. Trump isn't allowed to use the block button, but Twitter is not under any obligation to prevent him from using it illegally. Just the same that Twitter is not under any obligation to implement extra safeguards for twitter accounts owned by people whose conditions of parole restrict their use of social media--that's the user's issue, not Twitter's.


If that's the case, it is likely he can just continue to block people, I don't think he's going to unblock people suddenly because of this. If he is basically immune to most lawsuits (in general - I'm sure at some point something will break that line) then why would one judge's ruling have him change his behavior. He's pretty critical of judges already.

On the other hand, if the judge wanted to see this change, requiring Twitter to both remove (his) block button and unblock all existing users (from his account only) would more likely happen.


> If he is basically immune to most lawsuits

He's not (barring reversal on appeal) immune, or this case would never have reached a judgement.

> On the other hand, if the judge wanted to see this change, requiring Twitter to both remove (his) block button and unblock all existing users (from his account only) would more likely happen.

Judges don't have unlimited freedom to arbitrarily issue orders directing labor of nonparties to a case just because they suspect s party might not respect the judgement. There are, in any case, processes for addressing failure of a party to respect a judgement, which Trump is no more immune to regarding this judgement than he is to the case resulting in the judgement.


> There are, in any case, processes for addressing failure of a party to respect a judgement, which Trump is no more immune to regarding this judgement than he is to the case resulting in the judgement.

And what are those? For regular people, the judge can have a person jailed for contempt of court. I doubt that the POTUS is worried about that.


Theoretically impeachment, and then following that, jail.


You can be fined for contempt of court too.


The crucial part is who is doing the blocking. Twitter as a private company can block, Trump as a member of the government on an official government channel cannot. Companies do not have a constitutional obligation in the first the government does.


Oh there's definitely some path of legal wrangling that may end up compelling Twitter to do something here. In the end whether that's true or not will simply come down to a Judge and if Twitter wishes to fight further (eventually to the top court) or stop and give in. It doesn't have to be written in the constitution for someone to be compelled to do something wacky in this country.


No, those conditions only apply to public officials.


Commented above as well:

Case law would disagree. Here's a case where the Supreme court ruled that Facebook banning someone was a violation of their first amendment rights. [0] Salient quote: "Foreclosing access to social media altogether thus prevents users from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights"

Edit: as pointed out, this ruling doesn't actually disagree with what the previous comment said. It does seem similar enough to me to be relevant though so leaving it up. [0] https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-1194_08l1.pdf


Packingham v. North Carolina [0] was about the constitutionality of the state banning users from social media - not on social networks issuing their own bans.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Packingham_v._North_Carolina


Yup, corrected above.


You posted a link to a case involving a law in North Carolina. Facebook was not party to the case.

Would you please quote (from the link you posted) where it says that Facebook banned said user?


See above comments. The case doesn’t say what you think it says - it’s government that isn’t allowed to foreclose access, so the underlying cause here is Carolina’s violating legislation.


That’s a ruling about a state law, not a Facebook policy.


FWIW, whitehouse.gov lists @realdonaldtrump (as opposed to @POTUS) as the President's official Twitter account:

http://web.archive.org/web/20180523194453/https://www.whiteh...


Don’t understand this. Blocking a person does not prevent the followers of said person to see the conversation , thus it’s not a public forum?


I agree that it's kind of a questionable decision but my understanding of it is, people can normally post public replies to tweets- but if the user blocks you, you can't post your public reply. OK (and desirable) for most people, not ok for the government to do.

There's not necessarily a perfect offline equivalent but it would sort of be like if the president tried to forbid a newspaper from running an editorial next to the text of a presidential speech- obviously unconstitutional. (not a perfect comparison because twitter users who are blocked can and do get around it by screenshotting or just linking to the tweet even though they can't reply to it)

I think the more interesting part of this is the ruling that the president's "personal" twitter account is an official government instrument.


> I agree that it's kind of a questionable decision

I don't see what is questionable about it. Seems pretty straightforward, actually. He is an elected official who is held accountable by the public. He is widely known to make official policy statements using twitter. He can't just block citizens from reading his policy statements. That isn't how US democracy works.

> I think the more interesting part of this is the ruling that the president's "personal" twitter account is an official government instrument.

Well, considering how his "personal" twitter account is being used to make official policy statements... seems that it is no longer "personal" anymore, eh? He kinda brought that on himself, eh?

If all he was using Twitter for was posting pictures of his house-cats or something and not using it to conducting official government business, then you might have something to question.


> He can't just block citizens from reading his policy statements. That isn't how US democracy works.

if that was the crux of the issue, the ruling would be "stop making policy statements on twitter." The vast majority of US citizens don't use twitter and a sizable portion don't even have access to a twitter-capable device.


> if that was the crux of the issue, the ruling would be "stop making policy statements on twitter."

i don't think that sort of thing is within the purview of the court.

> The vast majority of US citizens don't use twitter and a sizable portion don't even have access to a twitter-capable device.

afaik there isn't a way to make statements in a manner that will reach all citizens.


> afaik there isn't a way to make statements in a manner that will reach all citizens.

I don't think Clinton and all the presidents before him had trouble making statements without the use of Twitter.


Most of which didn't have such a tool available to them. They did tend to use whatever technology they had available (radio, newspapers, television, trains, telegrams....). And they haven't all gone smoothly either, nor did they reach all eligible voters.


sure, and they didn't reach everyone either.


> The vast majority of US citizens don't use twitter and a sizable portion don't even have access to a twitter-capable device.

If you don't like that, consider taking that up with the Trump Administration. If his administration wants to use a medium that most people don't/won't/can't access, that kinda reflects on Trump. If you are down with that, cool. But the responsibility lies 100% with him.

This ruling says that if he insists on using twitter to make his policy statements, than he can't block people.

I dunno what more to say. Again. This seems like pretty straightforward stuff to me.

PS: I'm positive that somewhere down in the bowels of some federal government agency, somebody, somewhere, is trying to solve your concern. Probably by snapshotting his tweets and recording them in a more durable, accessable medium. (or god forbid printing them / saving them to PDF, etc). I also promise you tens of thousands of private citizens and journalists are doing the same thing.


"if that was the crux of the issue, the ruling would be "stop making policy statements on twitter." The vast majority of US citizens don't use twitter and a sizable portion don't even have access to a twitter-capable device."

But everyone knows that simply isn't going to happen. So the more sensible ruling is to say that Trump can't block anyone.


>I think the more interesting part of this is the ruling that the president's "personal" twitter account is an official government instrument.

Didn't the administration state that Trump's tweets are official statements a while back? That might be a big reason why.

Edit: Yup, they did.

https://www.cnn.com/2017/06/06/politics/trump-tweets-officia...


Ah, that changes things significantly.

While I'm still concerned about the potential application of this case onto others, the ruling is far more reasonable imo.


The ruling basically seems to come down to:

* If you are a government official, and

* If you have an account on a social-media network, and

* If you use that account to make official statements in your official capacity as a government official, then

* You must follow the rules government officials are subject to with respect to channels for official communications in their official capacities.

Among those rules are: you have to let the general public see what you're saying, and give them the opportunity to reply and comment, and cannot prevent them from seeing, replying or commenting simply because you don't like their opinions.

This should be completely unsurprising, but apparently a lot of people on HN are surprised at this.

(another fun and as-yet-undecided-by-a-court question is whether it's legal for him to delete tweets, since there are also record-keeping laws which typically require official communications to be preserved, and apparently HN is surprised at that too, judging from some of the other subthreads here)


I think a better offline analogy would be if the president mailed out copies of his official statements a few days after he made them (to the general public), and included a random sample of letters to the editor about the statement. Then one day he starts filtering out letters from those he considers troublemakers.

I'm not sure there's any law requiring him to include anyone's letter; it seems he'd have unlimited discretion on whose letters he wants to bundle. I don't see how 1st Amendment rights would ever require the president to let someone use that venue for speaking.


I've noticed there are a lot of rude replies under most of Trumps tweets. I'd think it would be normal to block that kind of thing but I guess it's an odd situation - Twitter wasn't really designed for the president of the US.

For example - just the most recent https://twitter.com/ronrobiins/status/999283009957318656 - presidential ain't what it used to be.


To be fair, no president was this rude. at least, not in public.


[deleted]


He is many things, but honest isn't one of them.


they aren't exclusive notions. and everyone is learning just how much "honesty" is a red herring.


Nobody is.


LBJ was a well known asshole. Did you actually think about your statement before you wrote it, or just assume that it would be true?


Yay personal attacks! There is a difference between being an asshole and being an asshole on tv/radio/twitter. The only way LBJ was same as Trump would be, if LBJ went on TV everyday and yelled profanity and called people names. Because that is what Trump does when he rage-tweets every morning.


LBJ was a well known asshole on every medium that was available to him.

Does Trump use a lot of profanity? I've never really noticed. What I notice is that he makes fun of his opponents a lot, but I don't really see how that is considered rude, when his opponents are doing the same thing back to him.


he can still mute people if his feelings get hurt

also this is not the first president to whom people have said rude things. If the definition of "presidential" has changed it's not because of people calling Trump a "parasite".


Go look at replies to any tweet from President Obama. I think you'd be hard pressed to say that there are not many equally as rude responses.


> rude replies under most of Trumps tweets

He tweets many rude things, so I don't think they can cite any standard of behavior.


I would imagine it’s analogous to blocking phone numbers on the White House switchboard: freedom of speech in this context means that the President cannot artificially limit who speaks to him through publicly-available means.


Yes, he doesn't have to listen to the callers, but he has to allow people to be able to contact him.


I'm not sure if replies to a tweet from someone who blocked you are associated with the tweet you replied to.

If not, the followers would not see the reply in that thread/ conversation.


Blocking on Twitter also prevents the blocked user from view the blocker's timeline, which means Trump would be preventing US citizens from viewing his "public statements"

Edit: Is this being downvoted because of some inferred snark? None was intended.


You can kind of get around this by viewing the site while logged out. But I don't know if that kind of thing is supported in any of the apps, so it's a big hoop to jump through.


Oh this is definitely true of the Twitter website but I would assume any barrier implemented is illegal, however ineffectual.


You are being downvoted because you are wrong. Blocked users can log out and read to their hearts' content.


> Blocked users can log out and read to their hearts' content.

So private citizens now have to work around a block from President of the United States in order to read official communication? Is that the kind of country you want to live in?

You know for sure as shit that homeboy was blocking more then Rolex watch spammers and markov chain bots. He was blocking the accounts of journalists, dissenters, and other private citizens. That is a fucked up thing for somebody who is a public official. What kind of dangerous precedent does allowing that kind of behavior set?


Not arguing one way or the other with regards to the original topic, but you are jumping to conclusions with no basis. "Private citizens" as a set naturally do not have to work around anything, as being a private citizen does not imply that one has a Twitter account. Entities (private citizens, corporations, or whatever else) that own a Twitter account, have done something that Trump believes warrants blocking, and are logged in, are prevented from viewing his tweets while logged into that specific account.

The argument that anybody is prevented specifically from "reading" official communication is paper thin. The problem was that the government was effectively blocking private citizens' ability to reply and share under their preferred (potentially verified) identity.


How is logging out of Twitter a workaround? The blocking doesn't prevent anyone from reading the communications anymore than not being allowed into the Brady Room prevents anyone from seeing White House press conferences.


That would be akin to saying you can access your President by giving up your passport. I can't believe people are defending this.


If you truly believe having to log out to read a tweet is akin to giving up your passport, you are insane.


Yes, losing passport is exactly that. Logging out makes me unable to access normal abilities a twitter user(american citizen) has. If passport analogy doesn't suit you, try incarceration.


This comment affirms my adjudication.


Pretty sure you can't directly reply to the Tweets of people who blocked you. So if Trump blocks someone on Twitter, they're no longer able to participate in conversations resulting from his tweets. (Unless they just make a new account, of course.)


Careful there. A judge calling Twitter a "public square" might ultimately lead to an extension of Marsh v. Alabama whereby social media platforms will not be able to censor political views they dislike. Slippery slopes and all that.


> Careful there. A judge calling Twitter a "public square" might ultimately lead to an extension of Marsh v. Alabama whereby social media platforms will not be able to censor political views they dislike.

The judge didn't call Twitter a “public square”, they called the space created by the @realDonaldTrump account a “public forum”; that's a critical difference.


It's still a slippery slope.


In the sense of the fallacy, yes.


It logically should. It either is or isn’t the public square.


Will this apply to all government officials on twitter? Can twitter still ban a user if they deem the content to be harassment/etc?


This is covered in the quote in the 4th paragraph. It applies to all government officials, but it only covers reactions to political statements. Harassment is still a valid reason to block someone. If they like a sports team the official doesn't, that's probably valid too.


> It applies to all government officials, but it only covers reactions to political statements. Harassment is still a valid reason to block someone.

And if the reaction to every single Trump tweet is “you’re scum I hope you die REEEEEE!”, does that person get a ban? Probably if the official’s anyone other than Trump, I’d guess. Seriously, you folks should look at the people banned, it’s a bunch of losers that would auto post some variant of “you’re an asshole” ten seconds after every Tweet, and they would rocket to the top of the reply list. In a sane world that would be considered harassment and not a valid reaction to a political statement, but whatever.


does that person get a ban?

Sure, they could be blocked for that. The case lists seven individual people who were blocked because they "posted tweets that criticized the President or his policies". It doesn't mean that every individual person the account has blocked was illegal.


> Will this apply to all government officials on twitter?

The limitations on public officials engaging in viewpoint censorship in a public forum, including a privately owned one, are not new, nor is this the first case where they have been applied to social media accounts. The rules do apply to all government agencies and officials, already, and not just “on Twitter”.


I think this is a 1st amendment issue - which doesn't say you have the right to say anything, it actually says that the government (and the president) cannot stop you from saying things - Trump blocking people on Twitter is exactly this


Excuse my ignorance... You're saying that if someone blocks you on Twitter you're no longer allowed to post something with their @handle? Or that they, as the blocker, just won't see it?

If it's the former, then I would agree with you. If it's the latter, and you're not actually blocked from posting (saying) anything, then where exactly is the violation?


it's the former, you can also 'mute' someone which is the latter


I believe it's the former.


Not just government officials - it seems like the same logic would apply to celebrities like Alyssa Milano who use their twitter almost exclusively as a political campaign forum.


That's not the same thing. Celebrities are not elected officials representing constituents. Perhaps if someone is actually running for office it makes a difference, but I'm not sure when these sorts of laws kick in.


Ok, then does it apply to the aides to a congressman who are actually handling their twitter feeds who are not themselves writing the laws? Any way you sum it up, either Trump should be able to block people, or nobody should be able to block people.


Is it the account of the elected representative? Then yes, it would apply. It doesn't matter if it's a surrogate actually making the posts.

And I highly disagree with the "all or nothing" approach you've laid out. The biggest difference is that Trump is an elected official. Most people are not.


> Ok, then does it apply to the aides to a congressman who are actually handling their twitter feeds who are not themselves writing the laws?

If they are making posts with Trump's account or are making posts on their own account while acting in an official capacity then yes they are almost guaranteed to be subject to this ruling.

Government and government officials have to play to a higher standard than a private citizen. Their actions and statements need to be public so they can be held accountable by the citizens who elected them. That is part of the bedrock that makes democracy work.


It does not, because the First Amendment is a limit on government, and “public forum” in First Amendment case law refers to a space (including a virtual one) over which the government has ownership or control which is used by government for particular purposes. This is a case about (existing) limits on what government officials can do in venues government officials have set up for certain used.


Being a celebrity with loud political views is not the same thing as holding office.


Isn't there a caveat? The article (unlike the headline) says "blocking people based on political speech" is forbidden. However, he is still free to block trolls right?


Even if true, that's a totally subjective standard that can't be applied consistently. One person's "political speech" is another person's "troll."


By that reasoning, this Judge’s ruling must be totally subjective.

https://www.engadget.com/2017/03/17/fbi-apprehends-troll-for...


That case isn't about "trolling," it's about causing physical harm to someone through electronic means. It's more equivalent to electronic warfare. I don't equate trolling (which is annoying, and irritating) with electronic warfare (which could literally kill you).

And if it isn't subjective, then what is the objective measure that you use to determine if something is "trolling" or not?


US First Amendment law is quite complex, and there's a lot of annoying little details to consider.

Essentially, designating a public forum means that the only restrictions are "time, place, and manner", and restrictions must be content-neutral. Furthermore, even the time/place/manner restrictions have to follow some level of reasonableness, with the exact level dependent on mildly arcane details, and I don't know the exact details here. The safest thing to do is say that he can't block trolls, because it's always easiest to default to assume that blocking speech is unconstitutional.

First Amendment rights are surprisingly far-ranging--it's unconstitutional for a city to deny neo-Nazis the right to march in a neighborhood of Holocaust survivors.


I am not legal expert but it makes perfect sense that any government official must not deny access to information to any citizen which is easily available to another.

Blocking means other person can not see trump's tweets. I believe Trump can always mute other people.

Let us consider the following scenarios :

- Trump blocks only black people on Twitter. - Hawaii's missile alert systems issues a real missile alert on their Twitter but Mr X does not get it because he was blocked by them. - Mr. Joe goes to local DMV to get a driving manual. DMV clerk closes the window on his face and refused to give him the manual.

How is twitter scenario different here ?


More importantly, blocking someone on Twitter prevents them from evoking your Twitter handle or retweeting you.

So, in the President's case, if someone is retweeting him and criticizing his words, or calling him out by his Twitter handle in a way that he doesn't like, he can block them and literally prevent them from posting certain content about him.

This is mindbogglingly unethical.


That's false. You can still post whatever you want about Trump on twitter. You just cant post it as a reply to his tweets.


Interesting too since Twitter makes all tweets public, thus an incognito window could still see those tweets. Which means that it's more about account notification and other tweet prioritization "features" of the platform that are related to getting news/information.

If this is the case, what does this mean for twitter's algorithms in deciding what to show you first - a democrat you follow or a republic you follow that both talk about a topic you care about (for example cotton picking in Texas)... Would this by any chance have an effect on that?


Block also makes it so people can't harass you. I think this is an important distinction.

By saying you can't block someone the judge is also saying you can't ignore someone who is harassing you.

Anyone who isn't logged in can still see it. They can just open an incognito window. They aren't really blocked from viewing his tweets.

It's unfortunate that the 2 are tied together into the same function. This would be a much simpler and less controversial issue then.


> Anyone who isn't logged in can still see it. They can just open an incognito window. They aren't really blocked from viewing his tweets.

If you read what you are arguing here out loud to yourself, it is immediately obvious why this "workaround" is a scary-bad precedent to set.

In order to view official communications from an elected official (i.e. the president of the united states), some citizens must "just" open an incognito window in order to work around the fact that the President of the United States blocked them from viewing official communication!

Go ahead, say that out loud to yourself! It is what some folks are arguing is okay. What kind of dystopian nightmare slippery slope path to hell is that shit? How more people aren't terrified of the precent allowing such a thing to occur is beyond me.

Saying it is okay that citizens have to work around government instituted blocks in order to hear from their elected officials. That is complete bollocks. "Shithole countries" with "shithole governments" pull bullshit stunts like blocking citizens access to official communication. I'd like to think America aspires to be better than that.


That's not what I'm saying. I agree that they should not be able to block people from seeing official communications, but I also argue that they should be able to ignore people who are harassing them.

Separating the 2 would solve this conflict.

At the same time though, if you think opening an incognito window is too much of a workaround for viewing public communications, what do you call just about every interaction with the government that is much more painful.

I wish every interaction with the government was as painless as opening an incognito window.

Especially the convoluted system we are required to use to file taxes. It's 1000x more convoluted and time consuming, and that is a requirement just to not be illegal.


> They should be able to ignore people who are harassing them.

They still can do that. This ruling does not say he can't mute people (prevent himself from seeing any of their posts). The ruling says that he can't block people (prevent the entire world from seeing their replies to his posts).


I don’t think it should matter, legally, that Twitter ties the two into the same function. You can’t break the law just because some third party requires you to do it as part of something else that you want. If the law means that Twitter’s stupid design makes you unable to block harassment, then you should convince Twitter to change it, put up with it, or stop using Twitter.


He could still mute someone which would keep their tweets from showing up but not prevent them from viewing his.

This is also probably moot since verified accounts reportedly have even better options for filtering out messages than normal users.


> This is also probably moot since verified accounts reportedly have even better options for filtering out messages than normal users.

Verified accounts don't. We have an extra tab to view only notifications from other verified users, but that's it.

If you have a large volume of notifications (e.g. a tweet goes viral), they give you a modal to prompt you to set up filters, but AFAIK those filters aren't limited to verified users. A non-verified user would still get that modal, which is just pointing you towards features already in the Settings page.

Source: am verified on Twitter, and also have had tweets popular enough to trigger that modal.


I think my impression might have been obsolete dating back before Twitter opened the quality filter & the other options up to general users.


You need to define harassment. For example what kind of harassment is avoided by blocking instead of just muting a person ?

> They can just open an incognito window. They aren't really blocked from viewing his tweets.

What if your local DMV tells a black citizen to go to some other DMV and get a driving manual ?

Secondly, if you are an ordinary person and I retweet your every tweet calling you a moron you might consider it harassment and block me but public officials do not have such luxury. It is a very fundamental feature of American democracy to call your president an idiot. He can't claim harassment there.


You bring up valid points. I wasn't aware there was block and mute as separate functions.

> What if your local DMV tells a black citizen to go to some other DMV and get a driving manual ?

Not sure the relevance to this discussion. What you are describing is racism, not denying access to problematic individuals.

I think the point here is there is no black and white answer, it falls on a spectrum. The "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone" is fine if you are a small mom and pop shop but not as you get bigger. Especially if you provide critical infrastructure or government function. Not sure it can be codified in an absolute law though.


I believe Trump would still be able to Mute people.


Doesn't it just mean you have to click one button, "logout", to read the tweets?


Reading isn't actually the main issue, response visibility is; the official account creates a virtual forum by the way Twitter operates, and blocking by viewpoint prevents certain viewpoints from being expressed within that government-created forum.

The government can't create a public forum and then control what views are expressed in that forum.


Blocking means your voice is take away. You can't retweet or respond.

Trump could just mute you and no matter what you do he wont be bothered. When he blocks he is taking away your right to critise him on that platform using your own handle.


Yeah, and now you can't respond to anything he says. You've had your voice taken away. The only way back into the conversation is to create a new Twitter account (in violation of the Twitter TOS).

And if you log back in with the blocked account, and try to tweet @realDonaldTrump, it will prevent you from posting because he blocked you, preventing you from using his Twitter handle in any way.

You also cannot retweet him anymore, which is a common way of publicly condemning the things he says.

In the hands of the President, the block feature is a powerful censorship tool.


> Yeah, and now you can't respond to anything he says. You've had your voice taken away.

Not really. I mean, what did we do before Twitter came along?


Before Twitter came along the president didn't have the legal ability to prevent you from criticizing him in any other venue either.


Trump removed plenty of hecklers from his campaign events.


Campaign events are generally not public forums, even if the candidate happens to also be an incumbent public official. For a federal official (and similar laws exist for state government), if the nexus with official government affairs required to make a public forum existed with a campaign event, that’d probably violate the Hatch Act separately from whether any violation of public forum law occurred.


Good point. If critical tweets kept him from giving his message then I expect the judge would have ruled differently.


He had not been elected yet. The moment he did, things changed.


Certainly he continues to remove hecklers from his campaign events. The distinction is a campaign event isn’t a “public forum”.


>Yeah, and now you can't respond to anything he says. You've had your voice taken away. The only way back into the conversation is to create a new Twitter account (in violation of the Twitter TOS).

When Trump uses his phone to talk to some people but doesn't take my call, is my voice taken away?


Sounds to me more like Trump can set up so that your phone calls are dropped every time you mention Trump in your conversation.


So can twitter ban me from using their services or viewing tweets? If we declare twitter the same as a DMV window, it greatly complicates the public/private division.

And what if Trump abandons twitter and decides to join chirper (I made that up, no relationship with anything that might have that name) which is just like twitter but invite only and has an open policy of banning liberals (which a private company is allowed to do), then what does this ruling mean? Does it mean that no government official can make use of any private company that has any level of discrimination against certain users (and by this I mean a legal discrimination, not based on protected class)? What about Trump joining a private club that doesn't let everyone be members?


These sound like really good questions for a court to decide.


Because Twitter is not a government owned entity, the government should have no right to force the use or means of use of a private tool. Now if the tool was a government utility, it would be a different story.


Then maybe the government should not use twitter for any official statements? Why should they be allowed to get around the rules by using twitter?


What's an "official statement"? Sounds like it's probably any public statement.


The government can set its own rules and restrictions for the use of a private service for it's employees.

There is no need for a tool to be owned by the government to be utilized by the government.


Correct, Twitter is not. The judge made no ruling regarding the functionality of Twitter. What the judge ruled on is what a government employee is allowed to do in respect to using the tool. You are still welcome to block people. Trump is not.


The government is not enforcing a rule upon a private entity. It is enforcing a rule upon itself, specifically on the office of the president, and as embodied in the person currently occupying that office.

Twitter, as a private entity, has the option to wipe out a user's block list, or to save it now and restore it later, and in the wake of this ruling, would be publicly justified in doing so for the @realdonaldtrump user. They would only be helping that particular user to obey the rules of their office. But they can also ignore it completely, and leave it to Trump to clear his own block list. The court might request Twitter's assistance in checking on whether its ruling is being honored, and they might choose to cooperate, or not, in the absence of any legal compulsion to do so.

This isn't a Twitter thing. It's a government thing.

The same thing has happened to government officials or agencies who blocked local gadflies and protesters from their Facebook pages.


Nobody is forcing Trump to use Twitter. They are saying that if he uses Twitter, he must leave his tweets open to all the public and not a subset. President Trump could always choose to close his account if he finds this requirement to be too onerous.


Do his Gmail emails need to be open to all the public? His Slack messages? His Facebook posts?

I don't see how anyone, president or otherwise, can't chose whom they send messages to.


> Do his Gmail emails need to be open to all the public? His Slack messages? His Facebook posts?

If they are being used to conduct official business, most likely yes. They will need to comply with federal regulations for data retention, public disclosure (or confidentiality as the case may be), etc.

You may recall another candidate who was running for president in 2016 getting raked under the coals for using personal email to conduct federal business.

> I don't see how anyone, president or otherwise, can't chose whom they send messages to.

What's to not understand? They are acting in an official capacity. Thus they are legally and ethically bound to a higher standard.


> You may recall another candidate who was running for president in 2016 getting raked under the coals for using personal email to conduct federal business.

I thought the other candidate was raked over the coals for jeopardizing national security?

In any case, I speak of Trump's "government" Twitter, "government" Gmail, "government" Slack, and "government" Facebook. (IDK how such a distinction is made, but I would like to compare apples to apples.)


His official communications are in fact required to comply with federal records law. Obviously that’s not the same as being public now but they would need to be given to the National Archives at the end of his term and eventually released following the standard process for handling secrecy concerns.


He can send messages at his discretion. With Twitter, however, tweets are (in this case) considered public announcements, with blocked people being exceptions on a personal level, and the ruling is that he is not allowed to make those exceptions. He still has access to direct messages, AFAIK. With Slack and Facebook, I can imagine comparable situations arising with similar principles.


He can certainly send private emails, Slack messages, or even Twitter DMs. What he can't do is publicly broadcast his tweets to the world, and then exclude people from them on political grounds.


> He can certainly send private emails, Slack messages, or even Twitter DMs.

Pretty sure he can't and if he is, he better be complying with federal records laws or else he'd be living a double standard. You may recall him blasting another, very popular candidate in the 2016 election for using personal email to conduct official business. Using slack / private email / twitter DM's is basically the same damn thing.


> What he can't do is publicly broadcast his tweets to the world, and then exclude people from them on political grounds.

What if he blocks them on non-political grounds. Maybe they made fun of his mother, or dog, or threatened to throw dirty socks on his lawn, should be be able to block them then?


While I realize the article/judge's opinion specifically calls out political speech, I'm fairly sure that applies to all speech, and the political speech subset was probably chosen by the plaintiffs as an easier path to victory.


> publicly broadcast his tweets to the world, and then exclude people

Are they really public in that case?

The President can share information with 1 person, 2 people, 3 people, or 336m people (the number of Twitter users). But he can't share information with 335m people?


It should be noted that the problem identified by the judge was the fact that blocking prevents users from replying to the tweets, therefore restricting their speech.

That said, excluding certain people from official communications based on their opinions might be illegal too: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/28/us/politics/white-house-b...


Actually, yes. Every single one of those should be recorded, and made available after declassified. All communications of the President are to be recorded for that reason.


Please look up what the Republicans were saying about Hillary Clinton's private email server.

For years.

And years.


> They are saying that if he uses Twitter, he must leave his tweets open to all the public and not a subset.

But they are. Click logout if you’re one of the few professional Twitter trolls that actually managed to get his attention.


> Click logout if you’re one of the few professional Twitter trolls that actually managed to get his attention

I.e. "people the President of the United States doesn't like". Even if those people have every right to have their voice be heard--as enshrined in the constitution. Saying "oh, they can just view his posts by going into incognito mode" is a pretty slippery slope to saying it is okay for the government to actively block certain undesirables from accessing government communication.

What kind of totalitarian government are you arguing for?


That he must leave his tweets open to all the public, and not prevent certain people from directly criticizing him in public either.


The government can, however force it's members to abide by certain regulations. That includes Trump.

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