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Before President Donald Trump took office back in 2017, social media critics warned that the continued use of his mega-popular personal Twitter account while in office would present a number of thorny challenges. And now it looks like they’re right. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that it was “unconstitutional” for President Trump to block people from following his personal Twitter account because they have criticized or mocked him.
The unconstitutionality of blocking people on Twitter
Taking advantage of Twitter’s blocking ability, the court ruled, meant that President Trump “engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.” That goes directly against the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The big sticking point was that President Trump was using his personal account for “all manner of official purposes.”
If, for example, President Trump were only using Twitter to comment on non-official and non-political issues, he would have been in the clear. But since his tweet storms and Twitter diatribes often include official announcements, foreign and domestic policy changes, staff firings, and other “official” business, he ran afoul of the First Amendment. From the perspective of the court, President Trump was unfairly blocking people from participating in a public forum, and therefore, was impinging on their right to free speech.
Social implications of the court’s ruling
The bigger picture, of course, is that this constitutional challenge could have far broader implications for society, for politics, and the overall cultural zeitgeist. And we’ve already seen a glimpse of what might happen next. As soon as the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that President Trump had been violating the Constitution by blocking people from reading his daily tweets, supporters of Trump immediately filed lawsuits against rising political star Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (“AOC”), claiming that she, too, was violating the Constitution by blocking critics and skeptics.
So where does this all end? The Founding Fathers could have hardly imagined a world in which the world’s most powerful person – the U.S. President – would be subjected to non-stop mockery and criticism via Twitter. And they hardly could have imagined a world in which policy matters and important matters of state were tweeted out in the wee hours of the morning from a smartphone for anyone on the planet to read.
Impact on business, brands and culture
In fact, if you think about the practical implications of what the court ruled, it’s sort of silly. It’s practically saying that people should be allowed to “hate-follow” top officials, just so that they can mock and ridicule them. Imagine if people started following you with the sole intention of mocking everything you say and filling up your social media feed with a lot of vile comments. You’d probably look for some way to block them too.
It’s possible to see how this court ruling could have implications for brands, too. Is it possible for Coca-Cola to block Pepsi lovers from their Twitter account if they start to mock new Coke products or new Coke ads? When is it possible to block anyone at all?
You get the idea here – we’re in completely uncharted territory here. Social media has completely changed the playing field for national politics, and the courts (filled with men and women who grew up in the pre-digital age) are now in the unenviable position of having to rule on social media issues that are unlike anything the original signers of the U.S. Constitution ever imagined.