Trump is banned from blocking people on Twitter, and the world should be very worried of the consequences
Back in September 2017, a group called The Knight Institute sought a legal challenge to prevent the president of the United States blocking people on Twitter. Trump has now officially lost the case, as it violates the First Amendment.
On the surface, this seemed like a frivolous lawsuit, designed to protect the rights of people wanting to insult the commander in chief on Twitter, but there was more substance to it than that. The constitutional issue wasn’t about forcing the president to see mean tweets, but ensuring other people aren’t prevented from seeing them. In other words, the president’s Twitter account is a public platform and if people aren’t able to reply to him because they’re blocked, then other Twitter users won’t see them. Indeed, if you click on any given tweet by the president, you’ll notice a lot more positive replies, and far fewer dissenting voices than when Trump went on his last blocking spree.
The White House had conceded that Trump blocks people, but contended that because it’s his own personal Twitter account, his own rights top theirs. Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wasn’t buying it, saying: “While we must recognise, and are sensitive to, the president’s personal First Amendment rights, he cannot exercise those rights in a way that infringes the corresponding First Amendment rights of those who have criticised him.”
Yes, the judge acknowledged that Trump could still mute voices he doesn’t want to hear, but those options are much harder to find on Twitter, and the president is notoriously technophobic.
This spells trouble for a White House that has gone out of its way to limit Trump’s media consumption to good news stories in a bid to maintain a cheery mood and (relative) productivity. An unhappy Trump with a famously fiery temper is not good news for country – or indeed other countries, given his proximity to the nuclear button.
It shouldn’t be a major scoop to reveal that Donald Trump is notoriously thin-skinned. The evidence is all around – not least of all on his Twitter account – but the extent to which it apparently affects White House policy is alarming. As Michael Wolff writes in Fire and Fury, his tell-all book about life in the Trump White House, managing Trump’s mood is vital to ensuring the White House functions smoothly. Or like something approaching smoothly, at any rate.
“That’s what the [Steve] non-Bannon people understood about Trump,” he wrote. “If the boss was happy, then a normal, incremental, two-stepsforward-one-step-back approach to politics might prevail. Even a new sort of centrism, as inimical to Bannonism as it was possible to conceive, could emerge.”
Later in the book, Wolff reveals exactly how this delicate balance is managed. “Hope Hicks, after more than a year at this side, had honed her instincts for the kind of information – the clips – that would please him,” he writes, while “Kellyanne Conway brought him the latest outrages against him.”
Twitter though: that’s completely uncontrollable. If Trump is forced to acknowledge voices of dissent, then… well, things might get a lot more interesting. No wonder the White House tried to fight the case.
As Hillary Clinton said a lot on the campaign trail: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man you can trust with nuclear weapons.” That grim prophecy may be about to be stress tested to the limit.