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Republicans Communications Government Social Networks The Courts The Internet Twitter United States

Trump Can Block People On Twitter If He Wants, Administration Says (arstechnica.com) 214

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The administration of President Donald Trump is scoffing at a lawsuit by Twitter users who claim in a federal lawsuit that their constitutional rights are being violated because the president has blocked them from his @realDonaldTrump Twitter handle. "It would send the First Amendment deep into uncharted waters to hold that a president's choices about whom to follow, and whom to block, on Twitter -- a privately run website that, as a central feature of its social-media platform, enables all users to block particular individuals from viewing posts -- violate the Constitution." That's part of what Michael Baer, a Justice Department attorney, wrote to the New York federal judge overseeing the lawsuit Friday. In addition, the Justice Department said the courts are powerless to tell Trump how he can manage his private Twitter handle, which has 35.8 million followers.

"To the extent that the President's management of his Twitter account constitutes state action, it is unquestionably action that lies within his discretion as Chief Executive; it is therefore outside the scope of judicial enforcement," Baer wrote. (PDF) Baer added that an order telling Trump how to manage his Twitter feed "would raise profound separation-of-powers concerns by intruding directly into the president's chosen means of communicating to millions of Americans."

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Trump Can Block People On Twitter If He Wants, Administration Says

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  • Yup. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by galabar ( 518411 ) on Monday August 14, 2017 @08:49PM (#55013463)
    Sounds about right.
  • by meglon ( 1001833 ) on Monday August 14, 2017 @08:49PM (#55013467)
    The Justice Department is powerless to tell the courts what they can, can't, or must, do.
    • Not exactly. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SeattleLawGuy ( 4561077 ) on Monday August 14, 2017 @10:00PM (#55013947)

      The Justice Department is powerless to tell the courts what they can, can't, or must, do.

      A big part of presenting a position to a court is telling them what they can or can't do. They (and then the appellate courts) have to decide if you're right. You'd be amazed at what portion of legal matters in court involve decisions made by judges where they might rather do something else that might make more sense in a particular case, but they have limited power. In reality, while there are many judges from both sides of the aisle whom we may disagree with from time to time, this restraint is why the notion of the "activist judge" is basically a myth, especially at the federal level.

      The courts defer to the executive or Congress on a wide variety of matters. Still, blocking a person prevents them from viewing your tweet and thus from interacting with it, which certainly limits that person's ability to comment on that tweet in a forum with thirty million plus people. It stretches credulity that you could convince a judge that a forum of thirty million people is anything other than a fully public forum, and free speech protections are at their zenith when talking about political matters in a public forum.

      The blocked person may have ample alternative avenues for communication, but preventing them from commenting on the basis of their speech is still a content-based restraint on speech and IIRC is presumptively unconstitutional. Still, First Amendment doctrine is a bit labyrinthine and it would take a full briefing to lay out and evaluate the issue fully.

      • by meglon ( 1001833 )
        I'd imagine, in this case, it would depend if the use of twitter in this case is official or personal, and the White House has argued specifically that they are official,. I'd imagine that the real first amendment argument would be on the side of those kicked off, as at that point, the government is restricting the speech of citizens on official forums....

        But, as my point goes... the justice department can say whatever it wants, and the courts will give consideration to it i'm sure, BUT... the courts are
        • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

          The First Amendment has never required providing a platform. The blocked users can still tweet all they want about anything or anyone.

          • by meglon ( 1001833 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2017 @02:35AM (#55015019)
            It requires nothing of private companies.... but official government forums?

            Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

            Or, for this purpose....

            Congress shall make no law.... abridging the freedom of speech..... or the right of the people ( ) to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

            If Trump's twitter is personal, than it's not an official forum, BUT, the White House has stated repeatedly that it IS an official forum. So yes, this is in the courts purview, and it isn't black and white. Cutting people off from an official forum seems to be a violation of the first amendment twice over, regardless of what the DoJ happens to opinion about it. Deleting tweets after the fact also may run afoul of preserving official records.

            • by Anonymous Coward

              Shit. Arrest Obama for not letting Joe Shmoe off the street into the white house press briefing.
              In reality nothing has been taken away from these people.
              They are not banned from twitter.
              They can tweet all they want. Trump doesn't have to trolls harassing him.

              • by meglon ( 1001833 )
                Nice straw man. Try again when you're not so much of a coward, that way we know who to laugh at.
      • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

        Free Speech does not mean that each speaker must talk to every other person. The content of the tweets are still publicly available.

        • It means the government canot stop you from speaking because it doesn't like what you say. There couldn't be a more clear cut violation of the first amendment than this. For all the times people mistook the first amendment as applying to corporations this is literally an actual case of the President, a government servant, telling some people "I don't like what you are saying, so I am stopping you from saying it."
      • It stretches credulity that you could convince a judge that a forum of thirty million people is anything other than a fully public forum, and free speech protections are at their zenith when talking about political matters in a public forum.

        Exactly; and on top of this, he is a public person, by his own choice. As the president, he is a civil servant, and anything he says in public will be taken to represent the official line of the nation as a whole, even if it doesn't come through @POTUS or whatever it is called. He is no longer just "this guy, Donald Trump", with his personal opinions that he shares with a group of peers and nobody else. As the president, he is supposed to be the top civil servant (note the word "servant") for ALL citizens o

      • Go to your next town hall and start yelling obscenities. Let me know how that works.

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday August 14, 2017 @08:51PM (#55013475) Journal

    Trump has made Constitutional lawyers, fact checkers, and news organizations richer.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Those willing to do anything to hurt the President at all costs need to remember that there will be more Presidents after Trump. Every challenge whether it be at the Constitutional, Federal, or State level will be used against future Presidents. Presidents the current antagonists actually support. Congress has already usurped some of the historical Executive powers with their limitations on how the President can handle the current sanctions against Russia. Since he has already been judged, without any evide

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Republicans passed the USA PATRIOT Act, then complained every time Obama used it. Seems the parties always seem to forget that what they grant their guy, the next guy will use, and what they take from the other side, their guys can't use.
      • Those willing to do anything to hurt the President at all costs need to remember that there will be more Presidents after Trump.

        Yeah, there's even some dumbasses who claimed that previous Presidents weren't even born in the US!

        Congress has already usurped some of the historical Executive powers with their limitations on how the President can handle the current sanctions against Russia.

        Then go whining to a court.

        Since he has already been judged, without any evidence, of being a Russian agent he is effectively barred from trying to cooperate and improve the US-Russian relationship.

        You've apparently missed like the past year of news. There was enough evidence for a DOJ investigation months ago, and it's only grown since then.

        It is know looked upon as criminal suspicion when any elected or appointed officials talk to their foreign counterparts.

        Only when they fail to disclose those meetings when legally obliged to, and then get caught lying about the contents of the meetings over and over.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      ...and cartoonists & comedians.

    • by sudon't ( 580652 )

      Trump has made Constitutional lawyers, fact checkers, and news organizations richer.

      May be, but he’s also made them irrelevant.

  • SubjectIsSubject (Score:5, Insightful)

    by p0p0 ( 1841106 ) on Monday August 14, 2017 @08:51PM (#55013479)
    Of course he can. It's his personal account.
    Within seconds of a tweet being posted, he'll have hundreds of replies, almost instantaneously, from the same people consistently, who always manage to get out 6 part tweets within a few seconds of each other.

    Spam, essentially. And what do we do with spam? We block it.
    Admittedly that's how most people deal with @realDonaldTrump anyway.
    • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Monday August 14, 2017 @08:56PM (#55013517)

      I think it is very legitimately arguable that Trump's Twitter account is more official than a White House press briefing. As such, blocking Americans from it is probably not allowed.

      Trump's account should be using the mute feature rather than the block feature (though the Twitter mute function seems pretty weak nearly to the point of ineffectiveness), or Trump should stop using Twitter as a presidential communications platform.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 14, 2017 @09:05PM (#55013593)

        It could be viewed more like the press room where official announcements are given to the media. The general public does not have access to this room during press briefings, but they do gain access to the content though the press. Just as I am sure a disruptive member of the press would be removed and possibly banned from attending future press conferences.

        So in much the same way if you are being disruptive on twitter you get banned as well. You'll almost certainly still be able to gain access to the contents of tweets though an alternate means, or you know just make a new twitter account.

      • Re:SubjectIsSubject (Score:5, Interesting)

        by redmid17 ( 1217076 ) on Monday August 14, 2017 @09:17PM (#55013687)
        I agree it's more official than a private acct on a platform. He's using it as a bully pulpit as POTUS. That said, there were plenty of time, manner and place restrictions available to the government on all sorts of media platforms. I cannot call Trump right now and guarantee myself a time to talk with him. That would be absurd and I doubt anyone would disagree.

        With Twitter he can't actually prevent anyone from seeing public tweets -- after all they can easily just open an incognito window or create a new Twitter handle -- but he can dictate who interacts with him. And once again, any number of restrictions apply to how we can interact with the President day in and day out.

        I am a bit surprised Twitter has not come up with an option to block people but still let them read your tweets. If the case does go against Trump's administration, then it would not surprise me to see this option play out. This is one of the very few things I've agreed with Trump on and man it makes me feel dirtier (than normal).
        • Spicer said its official. That makes everything he says subject to the presidential records act, and in no fashion a personal statement.

          When he's no longer President, it goes back to a personal account.

          His transgender ban is currently the big war on how much this matters. He can issue orders that generals don't take as orders, and suddenly it is an opinion, not policy, and a personal account. But as of right now, it represents the statements of the head of the Executive Branch, this is no longer a private a

          • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

            Spicer said its official. That makes everything he says subject to the presidential records act, and in no fashion a personal statement.

            When he's no longer President, it goes back to a personal account.

            His transgender ban is currently the big war on how much this matters. He can issue orders that generals don't take as orders, and suddenly it is an opinion, not policy, and a personal account. But as of right now, it represents the statements of the head of the Executive Branch, this is no longer a private a

            • by NaCh0 ( 6124 )

              Wow, the amount of red tape you propose is absurd and your wrong understanding of twitter while spouting such a thing is disturbing. Anybody can read public tweets, even blocked accounts.

            • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

              Twitter needs to ban @RealDonaldTrump. Twitter's terms of service clearly state that actions which endanger or threaten others are not allowed. As POTUS, the things he says have very real consequences, and he peers have already had to tell him to tone it down several times.

              Can you imagine the damage to Twitter's stock price if a tweet started a nuclear exchange?

          • by k6mfw ( 1182893 )

            He can issue orders that generals don't take as orders, and suddenly it is an opinion, not policy, and a personal account.

            I read an article where Trump visited latest Navy carrier Gerald Ford that uses electromagnetic catapult, Trump said something like "why use something only Einstein can understand, use steam!" Obviously admirals will ignore him and not specify retrofits.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Jack9 ( 11421 )

        > As such, blocking Americans from it is probably not allowed.

        Why? Exactly what right exists (in the US) that remotely implies this? What can be interpreted that any given member of any branch of the government has to see/read/listen to anything sent to them? I'm interested in this idea. Does every US postman, as a possible representative of the US gov also have to? The POTUS isn't a special man. He's in a unique position, which is not the same thing. Treating him as something more than he is, because of

        • by Troy Roberts ( 4682 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2017 @12:36AM (#55014651)

          Any person acting as an official representative of the US government has many laws covering his communication with the public. They are alleging that the presidents twitter account is being used for official communications with the public, and as such he can not bar some citizens from receiving those communications.

          • by Jack9 ( 11421 )

            > Any person acting as an official representative of the US government has many laws covering his communication with the public.

            While I'm very sure this is not true, there's a distinct possibility that I'm just wrong. I would like finding any juris prudence (stare deceisis or statutory) that applies to all federal civil servants, in regards to communication (or just the POTUS, would be very cool). That would be handy in my discussions about civil discourse and would have wide-ranging ramifications, of wh

      • He CAN block anyone from his twitter account just like his predecessors blocked "free speech activists" from writing graffiti on the White House. He CANNOT send the latter to electric chair for commenting unfavorably. Please understand the difference. In many countries speaking ill of the leader will get you death by firing squad.
      • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

        Except, of course, that the WH has complete control over who is allowed at press briefings. Your analogy leads to precisely the opposite conclusion you are trying to draw.

      • by mjwx ( 966435 )

        I think it is very legitimately arguable that Trump's Twitter account is more official than a White House press briefing. As such, blocking Americans from it is probably not allowed.

        Trump's account should be using the mute feature rather than the block feature (though the Twitter mute function seems pretty weak nearly to the point of ineffectiveness), or Trump should stop using Twitter as a presidential communications platform.

        Right-wingers are bitterly complaining that private companies are "censoring" Nazis (censoring in sarcastic quotations) however I haven't seen those same people complain about the president of the US, shutting down opponents to his announcement mention anything about censorship. No-sireee... those same people are presenting conspiracy theories to justify what is actually an act of political censorship. Censorship == OK for far right government, not OK for profit seeking corporations (whom they disagree with

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Of course he can. It's his personal account.
      Within seconds of a tweet being posted, he'll have hundreds of replies, almost instantaneously, from the same people consistently, who always manage to get out 6 part tweets within a few seconds of each other.
      Spam, essentially. And what do we do with spam? We block it.
      Admittedly that's how most people deal with @realDonaldTrump anyway.

      If I was in control at Twitter, I would just make his account viewable/followable by anyone who wants to, though he can still block incoming. He is a government official acting in a government role. FOIA requests apply, and all the rest. Besides twitter is a private company. They can do what the heck they want.

      Of course you can get his crap via a simple google search, so its hardly blocked particularly well, and who could stand continuous updates from the mistake. Of course, if I was twitter I'd also l

    • Re:SubjectIsSubject (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Monday August 14, 2017 @09:14PM (#55013665) Journal

      It's his personal account.

      Then why can't he use a personal email account for official business also? I mean, the person who did that got into some trouble, so I heard.

      • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday August 14, 2017 @10:04PM (#55013975)
        As long as he doesn't use it to:
        • have secret discussions about things which are supposed to leave an auditable paper trail because they affect policy,
        • delete messages which are subpoenaed because they could be relevant to a criminal investigation,
        • send or receive classified materials over an unclassified network,

        he can use a private service as much as he wants. Since the way Twitter works is to make anything he posts public, the first two can't happen. He can only get in trouble with it if he uses it to illegally reveal classified materials.

        • He can only get in trouble with it if he uses it to illegally reveal classified materials.

          The great thing about a Trump presidency is that the rest of us learn about the limits of the powers of the presidency.

          By definition he cannot leak classified materials. He apparently has the ultimate power to declassify anything. The fact that he says or posts something publicly means that it's declassified.

        • by n0ano ( 148272 )

          send or receive classified materials over an unclassified network,

          You mean like when he did exactly that: http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/08/... [cnn.com]

          And no, just because this info originally came from a public news article doesn't allow an official from the government to then disclose it.

      • I mean, the person who did that got into some trouble, so I heard.

        No, she didn't. You heard wrong. She was of the approved class, and can do no wrong.

        • The "approved class" seems to be people who work with classified information. As far as I can tell, nobody's been prosecuted for inadvertantly mishandling classified information. Unless you're arguing that Clinton deliberately mishandled it, and you'll have to provide a motive to be believed, she was treated just like anyone else.

    • Re:SubjectIsSubject (Score:5, Interesting)

      by l0n3s0m3phr34k ( 2613107 ) on Monday August 14, 2017 @09:45PM (#55013879)
      Too bad for you that the White House officially contradicted your statement back in June [nbcnews.com]. They have yet to issue any "correction" on this until today.

      "The president is president of the United States, so they are considered official statements by the president of the United States." White House Press Secretary Spicer

      Just because Spicer no longer holds that position doesn't automatically make all his previous statements null and void. Now, Sebastian Gorka said "there's a difference between tweets and policy and @realDonaldTrump's feed is the former, not the latter" so once again the White House is giving contradicting messages on their policy. Therefor, since they can't give a coherent policy, the courts will have to decide this. But the White House Communications Director/White House Press Secretary is higher up on the food chain than a Deputy Assistant.
    • Of course he can. It's his personal account.

      What would be interesting is what would be the reaction should Twitter, a private company decide to block his personal account, since they have that right.

    • by sudon't ( 580652 )

      Of course he can. It's his personal account.

      Donald Trump is no longer a private citizen. And the fact that he uses Twitter to make public policy pronouncements underscores this. Nor does Twitter treat his account like that of a private citizen. After all, they’re not going to ban him when he violates Twitter’s terms of service, such as the prohibition on using Twitter to make threats of violence, (such the one directed at North Korea).

  • I closed my twitter account because of trump.
  • Its funny how, (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arbiter1 ( 1204146 ) on Monday August 14, 2017 @08:56PM (#55013525)
    ALl they have to do it SIGN OUT and they can see what he post's. Its not like he banned from the internet or from the site completely. Just another smear campaign against the president they don't like.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The issue isn't just that people who are blocked can't see what posts, it's about politicians blocking a means for the people they represent from contacting THEM. The argument is that Twitter is a public forum, and it would be like a mayor throwing people out of a city hall meeting just for being critical of him.

      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *

        it's about politicians blocking a means for the people they represent from contacting THEM.

        Jump the fence into the White House or better yet try to land a helicopter on the White House lawn and then complain that someone is "blocking a means for you (the people) to contact your politician.

    • by vux984 ( 928602 )

      "All they have to do"...

      Why should some members of the public be singled out to have to do anything extra at all to receive official policy statements to the public from the president? That's ridiculous.

      If Obama walked onto stage to address the public; and then prior to speaking said, hey CBS, Fox, CNN, etc. Broadcast this across the country... except arbiter1's house. He pissed me off so I'm blocking him; i guess if he really wants to see he can go to a neighbors or something and watch it there; but I don'

  • He is the public figure. See subject.

  • not the first time, not the last that Trump's administration ignores US law and tradition and decides whatever he does is ok.

  • There's a fence around the White House, so it's pretty clear that the government has the right to block people from places it operates. Kicking a lunatic or a heckler out of a press conference or rally is no different than blocking someone on twitter. Free speech does not include the right to be disruptive or post stupid shit without consequences.
    • What's obvious is that is a bad analogy. The President's physical security is protected by fences. The President's ego is all that's protected by blocking Twitter accounts. On the other hand, all the complaining about Trump and his actions only makes his supporters dig in deeper and feel more justified, so I think we'd hurt Trump more by ignoring him and hoping he goes away.
  • Who cares? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trogdor_linux ( 5052565 ) on Monday August 14, 2017 @09:52PM (#55013907)
    I'm not on twitter. It took me exactly 15 seconds to search @realdonaldtrump on a search engine and pull up his Twitter account where I can read his inane babbling all day if I want. It's hard to take Trump's critics seriously when they keep whining about complete nonsense like this.
  • Considering the Trump administration's record on predicting what is and what is not legal, I'm pretty sure we're about to find out that there's a constitutional amendment from the 1800s that doesn't allow the President to block people on Twitter.

  • Sounds to me like a business opportunity. Build a website whose sole purpose is to post all of Trump's Twitter posts, including those that are in reply to someone else's Twitter post, throw some ads on the site and wait for the money to start rolling in.
  • by OYAHHH ( 322809 ) on Monday August 14, 2017 @10:39PM (#55014173) Homepage

    Then I am looking forward to my Congressional Rep not being allowed to block me on a whim.

    While I don't call people names, etc. I can only imagine what my US House Rep's FB feed is gonna look like when she is required to leave stuff she doesn't like up there.

    • Does she use her FB account as an official communications channel? Sean Spicer specifically said that Trump's twitter account is an official communications from the POTUS. http://www.nbcnews.com/politic... [nbcnews.com]

      By doing so, the administration as changed the nature of Trump's twitter account from personal to official. The courts will need to decide if this is the case. If the courts find that Trump's twitter account is an official communications channel for the POTUS, then a lot of rules apply to it. As a pers

    • Then I am looking forward to my Congressional Rep not being allowed to block me on a whim.

      While I don't call people names, etc. I can only imagine what my US House Rep's FB feed is gonna look like when she is required to leave stuff she doesn't like up there.

      You don't understand how the law works. Trump is in a very different position than your rep since he is president. Any restrictions on him could just be restrictions on him and nobody else. Furthermore, it depends on what court places the restrictions, assuming they get placed. Trump could just appeal and send it back into the courts for years to come. Also your rep could block you and argue that the Trump ruling only applied to Trump and not them and invite you to sue if you don't like it. Anything

  • So the whitehouse staff is claiming that his 5am shitter tweets are official whitehouse policy.... but that his personal account is not official government documentation and thus subject to freedom of speech concerns?

    Sorry guys, you cannot have it both ways, either its the depraved private musings of a senile old man on his own personal account
    OR
    It is official government documentation and policy announcements, and thus you cannot censor whom has access to reply.

  • The Courts have one job and only one job, to interpret the law.

    That means that the administration has no business saying what the law is. That is entirely the Court's power.

    So when they try to say what the court can and can not do, they are ALWAYS wrong. They expressly do not have the power or right to say what the law is.

  • People often forget, that for Freedom of Speech to be truely applied, listeners must have the right to decide what they wish to hear.

    The lawsuit is basically saying that doesn't apply to the President, which is the opposite of their intent.

  • AFAIK, Donald Trump is presently in control of *two* distinct twitter accounts.

    First, his personal account, and second, the official whitehouse @POTUS account that a history check confirms was previously used by Barack Obama.

    He uses both accounts for separate purposes. It's easy to argue that activity on his personal account has no bearing on his official position or actions as president.

    Now, if Trump was blocking people from his presidential twitter, that would be a different ballgame.

  • We take the Internet too seriously sometimes. Web sites are games. Blocking people on Twitter is like a move in that game. Telling POTUS he can't block people is like telling he can't get crowned in a game of checkers.

    Let's say that it is more serious though. Let's say Trump's account is like an open channel to the White House. Well, we've always been free to write an old fashioned letter to POTUS, and he's always been free to throw them in the trash, or direct staffers to filter them with certain crit

  • This is the real meaning of covfefe. "You are all taking this far too srsly."

    It all makes sense now.

  • (ianal) As he uses it to communicate with the public, aka the american people, it's not being used for private purposes, it's being used for the office of the president of the united states. As such, that puts it in a whole different category. Everything he posts to it needs to be archived, and nobody that's an american citizen can be banned from it. Otherwise he's seriously screwing up and violating other rules and laws regarding POTUS.
  • The problem here is that Trump is arbitrarily picking and choosing who has the capability to voice their grievances. I really don't see the courts approving of that. This could be resolved the same way corporations resolve these issues: establish a WH policy regarding access and enforce it, preferably independently, meaning Trump doesn't hit the block button himself. Simple example: If your messages approach the threshold of harassment as given for a public figure, then your account can be blocked. This wou
  • HPD Ordered to Pay $31K over Censored Facebook Comments
    http://www.hawaiifreepress.com... [hawaiifreepress.com]

    Court Rules Against Politician Who Banned Access to Her Facebook Page
    http://www.foxbusiness.com/fea... [foxbusiness.com]

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