Monday, June 19, 2017

Blocked from Twitter


Knight First Amendment Institute of Columbia University is considering suing President Donald Trump for blocking people from his Twitter account. (1)

Isn’t that a right of every social media user?  Blocking is a great way to protect privacy, express outrage about a tweet you disagree with and the final act of giving up an old girlfriend.  But, if you are the President of the United States, it shouldn’t be a freedom that is enjoyed. 

To place this in context, what if the President of the United States used caller ID and blocked your phone calls?  You wouldn’t be able to express your view point on an item of importance to the nation.

How about if the post office, noticing that your letter is being sent to the president, wouldn’t deliver it to the president because of his orders. 

How about Western Union being instructed by the president to not deliver telegrams from you.   

If the president doesn't like you, or your opinions, he still can't deny access to you by stopping all letters, post cards, telegrams or any other communication with him.

As a private citizen, blocking someone on Twitter or any other social media can be allowed.  But, as soon as a private citizen becomes a public citizen by running for office, holding office, working for the government as an appointee or employee, especially as the most important public citizen in the country, the rules change. 

This is a basic First Amendment right.  While it isn’t directly “speech”, it is an element of speech called access.  A free press, widely interpreted as free speech, has 6 parts.  They are access, inquire, records, publication, association and redress.

Access is the ability to “reach” the official.

If a citizen of the country doesn’t have access to what is being said by the people that make, enforce or judge the laws of the country, they are not able to fully exercise their First Amendment rights.  Once a person crosses the line from private citizen to public figure (government official) citizens of the country must be able to have access to him or her just like anyone else.  To block some citizens and keep others is like creating a first tier - second tier relationship with the very people you are to protect and support equally.

Conventional forms of communications; letters, telegrams, voice; have helped define our First Amendment rights.  No matter the form, delivery is assured to the official.  He or she can choose to read and consider each piece of communications, or toss it in the trash, as I am sure much of it does. 

Social media has changed much of the structure of communications.  In the past, a public official may have selected a traditional medium, like a newspaper, a radio station or a television program, to communicate to the public.  Even though access for some people in the country might be difficult using traditional media, none can be cut off from its access.  Response through the same channels was accessible.    

Yes, when President Trump chooses to use Twitter to communicate his thoughts and policy statements, he has chosen a medium that all citizens have broad access to.  But, there is an element that is a component of the medium that isn’t included in tradition media.  Users can be cut off by the President by his ability to block.  Those cut off don’t have access to what is said and don’t have the ability to communicate back in like form. 

The President of the United States’ expressions of thoughts on policy must be open to all to both receive and respond.

Other thoughts to consider:
Courts have consistently supported the difference of a private and public profile.