A federal judge in Manhattan has ruled it unconstitutional for public figures, including President Trump, to block people on Twitter.
The case was brought by aggrieved members of “Verified Liberal Twitter,” a bottom-feeding group of Twitter users that cultivates likes, retweets, and followers on the platform by piggybacking on the President’s tweets.
Given Trump’s enormous Twitter following, the top reply to his tweets often receives a great deal of attention. As Twitter favors verified users on the platform, while often shadowbanning conservative accounts, liberal and left-leaning responses to the President often appear at the top of his replies.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has even expressed openness to using Google’s hopelessly flawed, politically biased AI “hate speech” filter on reply threads beneath Trump tweets, which would privilege the replies of left-leaning users to the president even further.
With or without the filter, left-leaning users frequently attract thousands of retweets with their replies to the president:
To be fair you didn't win the WH: Russia won it for you. pic.twitter.com/iPUXKopd9B
— RPBP (@rpbp) June 6, 2017
Thus the incentive for Verified Liberal Twitter.
There’s just one snag. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which brought the case on behalf of the blocked Verified Liberals, argued that the President had violated the rights of the blocked users by limiting their participation in a public forum.
If Twitter is a public forum where users have First Amendment rights, that could make Twitter bans unconstitutional as well. It might also have knock-on implications for other social media platforms, like Facebook. That would present a huge problem for Jack Dorsey and other Masters of the Universe, who continue to purge conservative users from their platforms.
The wording of the judge’s ruling is unambiguous on this point, stating “the viewpoint-based exclusion of the individual plaintiffs from that designated public forum is prescribed by the First Amendment.”
Furthermore, the second part of the judge’s ruling, that public figures have no right to block users on social media in response to their political views, also has implications that range far beyond Trump.
Even if it’s argued that the ruling is narrow and only meant to apply to public figures (maybe even arguing that it applies only to the U.S. president), that still has implications for Twitter’s enforcement policy. A Twitter-wide ban cuts users off from the feeds of public figures with even more finality than a block. So too does a shadowban.
To put it another way: if Americans have a constitutional right to access the Twitter feeds of public officials, that means that no one — neither the President nor the CEO of Twitter — is allowed to prevent them doing so.
So, no more bans for American Twitter users then.
The ruling may well be judicial trolling from an anti-Trump judge, and there’s a question mark on whether it would stand on appeal — including eventually a Supreme Court appeal. But the fact remains that a federal judge has said that the First Amendment applies on social media.
Thanks, Verified Liberals!
Twitter declined to comment on this story.