One Tuesday in June last year, President Trump blocked Stephen King on Twitter, making the prolific author just one of a string of Trump’s critics who had suddenly found themselves unable to view the president’s tweets.
King’s reaction was one of, well, horror and was met with sympathy by others who had also been shut out by Trump online.
“Welcome to the blocked club,” another user wrote.
With a mix of disbelief, derision and wry camaraderie, those who had been blocked discussed what it meant to be blocked by Trump — it was a bit like the new “verified” badge, one mused — as well as weightier First Amendment issues.
The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed a case against Trump on behalf of seven blocked individuals, arguing the president was restricting information from some citizens in what should be considered a public forum.
After nearly a year-long legal battle, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled on Wednesday that it was indeed unconstitutional for Trump to block those critical of him, even on @realDonaldTrump, the personal Twitter account he clearly prefers.
“No government official — including the President — is above the law,” judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote in her ruling. ” … The viewpoint-based exclusion of the individual plaintiffs from that designated public forum is proscribed by the First Amendment and cannot be justified by the President’s personal First Amendment interests.”
Reacting to the news, Twitter user Jules Suzdaltsev, who was not part of the case but has been blocked by the president, told The Washington Post he was ready to again see Trump’s tweets, though as of Wednesday afternoon he remained blocked by Trump.
“I would be incredibly surprised if he actually unblocked anyone,” said Suzdaltsev, whom the president blocked nearly a year ago. “Like genuinely shocked.”
Last year, we explored how getting blocked by Trump became, in some strange way, almost like a “badge of honor” to those who disagreed with him, in a then-nascent presidency. That story follows here, as it was originally published on June 13.
A joke about ice cream. A suggestion to spend more time with his youngest son. An animated GIF featuring Pope Francis giving a skeptical look.
These are just some of the reasons, as far as anyone can tell, that President Trump has blocked people on Twitter.
Amid threatened legal action questioning whether it is unconstitutional for the president of the United States to bar exchanges with certain constituents on his preferred platform of communication, a group of people has stepped into the spotlight: those who have been #BlockedByTrump. The latest targets may be a veterans group and the author Stephen King, who has already attracted celebrity sympathy.
In the 24 hours before his alleged blocking, the writer had tweeted about Ivanka Trump and the Trump Cabinet’s high praise for their president. King had previously mocked Trump’s baseless wiretapping allegations as only a horror writer could.
For many, getting singled out on Twitter by the leader of the free world is so bizarre that, when it happens, there tends to be a sense of awe mixed with indignation and disbelief. For others, it has become a strange new badge of honor, with newly blocked users being welcomed to the “club” by previously blocked ones.
The “club” may now also include VoteVets.org, a liberal veterans group, which shared what it claims is an image of its block notification.
The group posted to Facebook the tweets it posted in reply to the president’s recent tweets, which criticized Trump’s travel restrictions, the Russia controversy and more.
The alleged blocking has provoked a response from critics.
Will Fischer, VoteVets’ director of government relations, told Vox.com that blocking the organization on Twitter is “not just being unresponsive to veterans, but about being responsive to any voice of dissent whatsoever.”
It’s difficult to say for certain how many people Trump has blocked because a user’s list of blocked accounts isn’t public. (This report relied on images from those who said they had been blocked.)
But it is an experience that a growing number of people say they share.
“HOLY [S—] HE ACTUALLY DID IT!” Jules Suzdaltsev, a freelance journalist based in San Francisco, tweeted on May 31, accompanied by images of Trump’s suddenly inaccessible (to him) personal Twitter account. “I told Trump to spend more time with his son AND HE BLOCKED ME!”
Suzdaltsev was caught off guard when what he considered a fairly harmless series of tweets finally spurred Trump to block him. Usually a critic of the president, Suzdaltsev said he had started out by affirming Trump’s opinion that “Kathy Griffin should be ashamed of herself” and agreeing that “her joke was tasteless and stupid.”
He then followed with some unsolicited advice for Trump to spend more time with his youngest son, Barron.
And just like that, Trump’s Twitter feed was suddenly closed off to Suzdaltsev.
“I was elated,” he told The Washington Post. “Maybe initially bittersweet, but when I realized I could still reply, I was absolutely elated.”
Suzdaltsev certainly wasn’t trying to get himself blocked by the president, but he wasn’t holding back, either. He had been tweeting at Trump regularly since just before the inauguration, often with “over-the-top, aggressive” missives that challenged Trump’s intelligence, his appearance and more. Often, Suzdaltsev says, he couldn’t help himself.
“First of all, he’s incredibly easy to respond to,” Suzdaltsev said. “Other times, he’ll say things that are vividly untrue. It’s almost like there’s this compulsion to prove that ‘You’re not fooling anyone. I don’t care if you’re the president. This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say.’ ”
By then, Suzdaltsev had become one of a vocal group of verified Twitter users who relished in racing to be the first to comment anytime Trump tweeted. The overwhelming number of retweets and “likes” he got for each retort — if phrased and timed just right — had become entertaining, gratifying and, yes, a little addictive.
“It did amazing things for my engagement,” he said.
Eventually, it also got him blocked.
But in late May, word spread that Trump had blocked comedy writer Bess Kalb after she tweeted at @realDonaldTrump to say that his trip to the Middle East had been “embarrassing.”
“I thought, oh, that’s quite unsettling, because I never expected that that would happen, and I’d always been a little afraid of that,” Suzdaltsev said of Kalb getting blocked. “But I sort of thought, I’m not going to change, because that’s the definition of a chilling effect.”
For Rob Szczerba, a tech executive in Upstate New York who rarely tweeted about anything political before Trump, it was the post-inauguration spat over crowd size that sucked him into the Twitter game.
“You’re just thinking to yourself: Why would you get all bent out of shape about that?” Szczerba told The Post. “That just seems kind of silly.”
Like Suzdaltsev, Szczerba got into the habit of trying to come up with rapid, humorous responses to Trump’s tweets. He set up his notifications to alert him whenever Trump posted to Twitter. And like others, his replies to the president were usually met with hundreds, if not thousands, of likes and retweets.
“Usually they’re fairly blunt,” Szczerba said of the president’s tweets. “I never really tweeted anything threatening or use profanity in any way. I tried to use humor.”
Even that was not enough to prevent Trump from hitting the “block” button on him. On the night of June 1, the same day Trump announced that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, Szczerba fired off a criticism of the decision — in the form of a dad joke.
When he checked Trump’s profile shortly afterward, he realized he had been blocked.
“I was almost laughing when I got blocked,” Szczerba said. “Like, seriously, that’s what you’re blocking me over?”
Szczerba said he doesn’t know whether Trump himself is doing the blocking or whether it’s someone on his staff. Either way, he thinks it’s counterproductive. For one, there are still ways, through third-party apps, to view and respond to a Twitter account that has blocked you.
“When you’re blocked, it shows that someone’s actually reading these things and somebody’s gotten under your skin,” Szczerba said. “As a politician … responding in this sort of manner doesn’t seem to be in your best interest.”
Other “last tweets to Trump” that reportedly triggered a presidential block include disses of Trump’s approval ratings, even calls for his impeachment.
“Did I make death threats against him? Did I use foul language or threaten his family?” Holly O’Reilly, a.k.a. @AynRandPaulRyan, wrote in a guest column for The Post, of the tweet that got her blocked. None of the above.
“I told him that the pope looked at him funny,” O’Reilly said.
At first, she “couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all” — but soon her laughter gave way to anger, she wrote:
It’s one thing if the president blocks me; I’m just one person, and I can certainly do something else with those five minutes of my day. But when he began systematically blocking dozens of people who simply didn’t agree with him, that’s when I started to worry that this is something more than just one person blocking another one. This is an elected official trying to silence an entire sector of the dissenting populace. This is what dictators and fascists do. This isn’t what we do here in America.
O’Reilly has since joined a group that is alleging that Trump’s blocking of her on Twitter violates her First Amendment rights. Trump is not the only elected official who has been blocking his or her constituents on Twitter, according to an investigation by ProPublica.
With the writer King, it’s unclear if he was actually blocked. (“Maybe it’s a hoax,” he tweeted.) King could not be reached immediately for comment. But he has drawn a high-profile supporter.
For many others, being blocked by Trump is a less serious matter, something to trumpet in Twitter bios and reminisce about with images.
“It’s kind of viewed as a little bit of a badge of honor that you got blocked,” Szczerba said.
Twitter user Tony Posnanski is just one of a few who turned his notification that Trump had blocked him into his Twitter banner photo.
“Being blocked by Donald Trump,” Suzdaltsev mused in a recent tweet, “is the new ‘verified.’ ”