Donald Trump, Twitter, & The First Amendment

Donald Trump, Twitter, & The First Amendment

By KrisAnne Hall, JD


President Trump has been blocking people from his @realDonaldTrump account.  A federal judge says Trump is violating the First Amendment.  Is the Right to freedom of speech being violated by Trump through his actions on Twitter.  The answer to this question requires a two step process.

First, Twitter is a private forum, run by a private company.  Something only becomes a violation of Rights when the government is the offender.  People do not have their Rights violated when Twitter, as a private company, censors and blocks persons from their forum.  Private businesses still retain the right to refuse to do business with customers, regardless of the confusion created by the recent issues with photographers and cake bakers.  Additionally, people do not have their Rights violated when they are blocked on Twitter by another private individual.  The principle is: No government actor, no violations of Rights.

But this is not a question of Twitter blocking customers.  This is a question of the president of the United States, a government actor, blocking discussion from his Twitter feed.  So the question is Donald Trump a private citizen or a government actor?

The argument could be made that the @realDonaldTrump account is Trump’s personal account and as a private account maintained by a private citizen, people being blocked do not have their Rights being violated.  However that argument fails the moment Donald Trump voluntarily discusses “presidential business” on this “private” account.  Trump transforms his private account into the account of a government agent through his own actions whenever he tweets about his affairs and opinions as president.  Since Donald Trump is president he is a government agent.  Since Trump uses his Twitter account to discuss presidential business the account is not private, it becomes a public forum.  Therefore, those blocked by Trump on his @realDonaldTrump account are having their voice silenced by a government actor regarding public affairs.  This is a clear violation of the Right to freedom of speech.

To allow a government agent to conduct public business, yet hide behind the claim of a “private” account literally negates the entire purpose of the First Amendment: to be able to openly and publicly criticize those in office in what ever forum is available (Freedom of Press).  Trump chooses the forum of Twitter to conduct public business, so he must accept that forum for its praise and criticism.

The quick fix for Mr. Trump is to stop using the @realDonaldTrump account to discuss public business and reserve that account for truly private matters.  He must confine the presidential conversations to the @POTUS account.  That way he may maintain control over his truly private account and leave government business to the government account.