The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

President Trump is violating my constitutional rights by blocking me on Twitter

The president can unblock me, or see me in court.

Holly O’Reilly, a snarky Twitter critic of President Donald Trump, got blocked by him online. She says it's “a 21st-century violation of free speech.” (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)
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The president of the United States, the leader of the free world, has blocked me on Twitter. Did I make death threats against him? Did I use foul language or threaten his family?

Of course not.

I told him that the pope looked at him funny — using an animated GIF with some precision papal side eye.

After the election, I programmed my phone to alert me whenever Trump tweeted. If his tweet was particularly inane, I would reply with my own equally dumb remarks and memes. Since I started doing this, I’ve accumulated a very vocal group of Twitter followers who cheer me on when I troll the president. It takes about five minutes out of my day, and it makes me feel better knowing that this narcissistic, egomaniacal, misogynistic, xenophobic POTUS can read how I feel about him.

I tend not to hold back — I mean, he doesn’t. Why should we?

On a recent Saturday morning, May 28, my phone started buzzing as Trump tweeted: “British Prime Minister May was very angry that the info the U.K. gave to U.S. about Manchester was leaked. Gave me full details!”

My responses were swift and not politically correct (“bloody idiot” figured into one popular tweet), but if anyone understands the need to eschew political correctness, it’s our dear leader.

Then I put my phone down and went about the day, which seemed to bring no more tweets from the president. When I opened my computer later that evening, there were messages from multiple people on Twitter saying they had been blocked by Trump. I went to check it out and found that I’d been blocked as well.

At first, I couldn’t help but laugh. Then I got angry. I have no problem finding a better way to spend those five minutes every day. But how could the president systematically block dozens of people who simply didn’t agree with him? 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.

Press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that Trump’s tweets “are considered official statements by the president of the United States.” When Trump blocks people for disagreeing with him, he isn’t just deciding not to hear our voices; he’s cutting us off from receiving these official statements. He has closed the door of the virtual town hall meeting to everyone except people who agree with or say nice things about him.

When the president uses social media to communicate about government policy with millions of people and solicit their responses, he can’t target individuals to exclude them. If Trump were using a private Twitter account to communicate with family and friends, he would be able to block anyone he wanted. (I block people all the time.) But this is not a private affair: I was blocked from @realDonaldTrump, the president’s most-followed account, the one he broadcasts from the White House. This is a 21st-century violation of free speech. It also means that, with criticism suppressed, the replies under his tweets now present a distorted picture of how Americans feel about our commander in chief.

This isn’t just about Trump, and it’s not just about Twitter. It’s about ensuring that as new platforms of communication are developed, and more and more politicians use social media as a primary way to communicate with constituents, we don’t lose our ability to participate in our democracy or exercise our First Amendment rights. The Founding Fathers didn’t foresee Twitter, but they certainly provided a framework to make sure we could always engage with the people who purport to represent us.

When reached by The Washington Post, White House press secretary Sean Spicer declined to comment on this story.