Expert: Ruling that Trump’s Twitter blocks are unconstitutional may affect elected officials in Illinois

A federal judge ruled that President Donald Trump cannot impede someone’s free speech by blocking them on Twitter, a decision that one expert warns could extend to elected officials throughout Illinois.

“…no government official – including the President – is above the law,” the judge said. “And all government officials are presumed to follow the law as has been declared.”

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said in her ruling that Trump’s blocking of a handful of his followers on his personal Twitter page deprived them of access to a public forum. The ruling didn’t say that Trump must unblock everyone he’s removed from his page, but warned that he must stop.

Local government lawyer and social media law expert Julie Tappendorf, equity partner at Chicago-based Ancel-Glink, said the ruling wasn’t broad enough to require a local mayor to unblock people from a social media page, but she would advise them to stop blocking people.

“In a government capacity, if the account is considered a public forum under the First Amendment, they have to be careful about censorship of negative speech,” she said. “I would advise them to consider how they use their private account.”

Tappendorf said the ruling doesn’t turn all of social media into an open forum, but key distinctions on a public official’s use of their page – staffer access for instance – could open an official up to a similar legal bind as Trump.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online civil liberty organization, said local public officials should unblock people now.

“Far too many public officials manipulate social media comments to exclude opposing views, block users from commenting on agency Facebook pages, or prevent them from contributing to and reading community discussions,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said on Twitter. “They should unblock their critics now and not wait to be sued.”

This story was originally published on the Illinois News Network.

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