Seven people blocked by President Trump from seeing or interacting with his Twitter account filed a lawsuit against him Tuesday, arguing that barring them from his popular social-media feed violates the First Amendment to the Constitution. The lawsuit, which raises interesting questions about what constitutes a public forum, as well as the boundaries of free-speech rights on the Web, comes as Trump continues to draw concern about his novel and erratic use of social media.
"President Trump's Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, has become an important source of news and information about the government, and an important public forum for speech by, to, and about the President," the lawsuit said. "In an effort to suppress dissent in this forum, Defendants have excluded — 'blocked' —Twitter users who have criticized the President or his policies. This practice is unconstitutional, and this suit seeks to end it."
The Twitter users, represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said that Trump's actions violated their Constitutional rights in several ways. They argued that the president has restricted their participation in a public forum, their ability to access official public statements made by him and their capacity to petition the government to air their grievances.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, and White House director of social media Daniel Scavino were named as defendants in the suit, along with the president. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The Twitter users said they brought the lawsuit to seek a declaration that Trump's actions were unconstitutional and to get an injunction requiring Trump to unblock their accounts and preventing him from blocking other people because of their views.
Earlier this month, Trump ignited a controversy by tweeting out a GIF of himself pummeling Vince McMahon at a past WrestleMania, with a CNN logo superimposed over McMahon's face. It was titled "Trump takes down fake news." As the tweet gained traction online, some questioned whether Trump had violated Twitter's harassment policy by appearing to promote violence against CNN.
What exactly were the offending tweets that led the president to block the Twitter users from viewing his account?
According to the lawsuit, one plaintiff, Holly Figueroa, "replied to the President in a series of tweets, including one that contained an image of Pope Francis looking incredulously at President Trump, along with the statement 'This is pretty much how the whole world sees you. #AMJoy #SundayMorning.'" Her reply received nearly 15,000 likes and 5,300 retweets. Later that night, Figueroa discovered she had been blocked by Trump, according to the lawsuit.
After Trump tweeted, "Sorry folks, but if I would have relied on the Fake News of CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS washpost or nytimes, I would have had ZERO chance winning WH," another plaintiff, Rebecca Buckwalter, replied, "To be fair you didn't win the WH: Russia won it for you." Her reply drew 9,100 likes and 3,400 retweets. Soon after, Buckwalter discovered she had been blocked, the lawsuit said.
And after Trump tweeted, "The new Rasmussen Poll, one of the most accurate in the 2016 Election, just out with a Trump 50% Approval Rating. That's higher than O's #'s!," another plaintiff, Eugene Gu, replied, "Covfefe: The same guy who doesn't proofread his Twitter handles the nuclear button." His reply drew 2,900 likes and 300 retweets. Gu discovered he had been blocked from the @realDonaldTrump account about two hours later, the lawsuit said.