A federal judge has discouraged President Trump from blocking Twitter users, and encouraged him to simply mute his online dissenters.
The recommendation came today from Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, in response to a First Amendment lawsuit, filed in July 2017 by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, and seven people who Trump has blocked on Twitter, according to the Associated Press.
Trump has a history of blocking his online critics. On Twitter, those users cannot see his tweets, voice their disagreements, or interact with his account. This has spurred debate over whether Trump blocking people is a First Amendment violation, as Twitter could be considered a "designated public forum,” where citizens’ protest should not be restricted, and should be heard.
Accounts that Trump has blocked include novelist Stephen King, and VoteVets, a political organization that advocates on behalf of veterans.
The tricky part has been how to classify Trump’s account, @realDonaldTrump, which he uses to communicate in a presidential capacity. While Trump also uses the @POTUS account this way, he more frequently tweets from his personal handle. White House staff have clarified that tweets from @realDonaldTrump count as “official statements.”
Buchwald advised both parties to settle, but said she will provide a ruling if they’re unable to reach an outcome. Muting users, she said, won’t prohibit them from seeing Trump’s feed, but it will prevent the president from seeing their tweets, if he so wishes.
The Manhattan federal judge also said that failing to come to a settlement could set a new precedent for First Amendment issues.
“We’ve said from the outset that muting would be a less restrictive alternative than blocking, so we were pleased the judge raised this possibility,” Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute, told Motherboard in a statement.
“But given that the government has argued that the president’s Twitter account isn’t subject to the First Amendment at all, and that the court doesn’t have the power to order the president or his aides to do anything, it would be a pretty remarkable about-face if the government were to propose a settlement at this point. We’d certainly be open to hearing from them, though.”