Twitter is the Modern Public Square. So Can the President Block You?

Katie Fallow
March 08, 2018

The central institution of the first democracy was the Athenian assembly, where all important civic decisions were put to a vote. And the central tradition of the assembly was that every citizen could speak freely on all such matters. The ancient Greeks even had a word for one who did not participate – an “idiot” – the root of our modern insult.

Modern America is only loosely based on Athenian democracy. We can no longer gather at short notice to vote on a hill in the middle of town. But a belief that every citizen should have an opportunity to speak and be heard remains at the heart of our political tradition.

It plays out even today in New England town meetings, Los Angeles zoning board hearings, and the hundreds of often rowdy town hall events held in home districts when Congress is out of session. And it is reflected in the first amendment principle that the worst kind of censorship is censorship of those who criticize government, because their speech is both essential and vulnerable in a democracy.

On Thursday, a federal court in New York will face a distinctly modern version of this ancient issue. It will consider whether President Trump has the right to block certain individuals from interacting with him on his Twitter account simply because they have said things about him he does not like.