Knight Institute Demands That President Unblock Critics on Twitter

June 06, 2017
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NEW YORK — In a letter sent today to President Trump, the Knight First Amendment Institute asked the President to unblock the Twitter accounts of individuals denied access to his account after they criticized or disagreed with him, or face legal action to protect the First Amendment rights of the blocked individuals.

The President’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, is a “designated public forum” subject to the First Amendment, according to the Knight Institute.  The First Amendment bars the government from excluding individuals from a designated public forum because of their views. The Knight Institute asked the President to unblock its clients, or to direct his subordinates to do so.

“This is a context in which the Constitution precludes the President from making up his own rules,” said Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute’s executive director. “Though the architects of the Constitution surely didn’t contemplate presidential Twitter accounts, they understood that the President must not be allowed to banish views from public discourse simply because he finds them objectionable. Having opened this forum to all comers, the President can’t exclude people from it merely because he dislikes what they’re saying.” 

Having opened this forum to all comers, the President can’t exclude people from it merely because he dislikes what they’re saying.
Jameel Jaffer

Public officials at every level now use social media as a means of political communication. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan recently observed that Twitter’s users now include “all 50 governors, all 100 senators, and every member of the House.” As it becomes commonplace for public officials to use social media for constituent communication, and Twitter and other platforms move to center stage in modern democracy, the courts will be called upon to decide the new contours of First Amendment protection.

“When new communications platforms are developed, core First Amendment principles cannot be left behind,” said Katie Fallow, a senior litigator at the Knight Institute. “The First Amendment disallows the President from blocking critics on Twitter just as it disallows mayors from ejecting critics from town halls.”

The Knight Institute’s letter to President Trump is here.

About the Knight Institute

The Knight First Amendment Institute is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization established by Columbia University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to defend the freedoms of speech and press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education.

For more information, contact the Knight Institute at media@knightcolumbia.org.