Twitter is not a public utility, and it shouldn't be treated like one.
If a person blocks you on the popular social media platform, even if it's the president of the United States, he is not violating your First Amendment rights. Don't be ridiculous.
Unfortunately, the Knight First Amendment Institute sees it differently, and suggested Tuesday that President Trump had violated free speech rights by blocking certain Twitter accounts. We say "unfortunately" because this type of thinking makes it harder for First Amendment supporters to be taken seriously.
The group, which was founded by Columbia University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, sent the president a letter calling on him to unblock the accounts. The letter also warned that non-compliance would likely result in legal action.
"This Twitter account operates as a ‘designated public forum' for First Amendment purposes, and accordingly the viewpoint-based blocking of our clients is unconstitutional. We ask that you unblock them and any others who have been blocked for similar reasons," the free-speech institute argued.
This is a real thing argued by real people.
The group added that, "The blocking of users from your Twitter account suppresses speech in a number of ways. Users who have been blocked cannot follow you on Twitter, and they are limited in their ability to view your tweets, find your tweets using Twitter's search function, and learn which accounts follow you."
This is not true. There are several methods for viewing a blocked account, including the easy option of simply logging out of Twitter. If blocked users don't want to sign out, all they have to do is open a new "incognito" window in Google Chrome and view the account that way.
The Knight Institute continued, writing, "When the government makes a space available to the public at large for the purpose of expressive activity, it creates a public forum from which it may not constitutionally exclude individuals on the basis of viewpoint."
"This is true even if the space in question is ‘metaphysical' rather than physical; even if the space is privately rather than publicly owned; and ‘even when the limited public forum is one of [the government's] own creation,'" they added.
The problem here is that the @realdonaldtrump account was created by a private individual for a private entity long before Trump took the White House. Their argument here isn't as solid as they may think it is.
"Your @realDonaldTrump account constitutes a designated public forum. It is a forum for expression in which you share information and opinions relating to government policy with the public at large, and in which members of the public can engage you, engage one another, and sometimes elicit responses from you," they argued. "Your Twitter account is a designated public forum for essentially the same reasons that open city council meetings and school board meetings."
The letter added in reference to the critical accounts blocked by the president, "The protection of speech critical of government officials is perhaps the core concern of the First Amendment, because the freedom of individuals to engage in this kind of speech is crucial to self-government."
This is all pretty silly, including the part where the president actually blocked Twitter accounts. The letter is also ridiculous, and the people at the Knight Institute are probably smart enough to see that. That's likely why they sent a toothless warning rather than bring an actual suit against the White House.
Here's a full copy of the institute's note to the president: