It is not often that one sues the President of the United States and wins. But Rebecca Pilar Buckwalter-Poza did just that.
But why did Buckwalter-Poza sue the President? Upon being asked, the journalist indignantly quipped,
“He blocked me on Twitter!”
Buckwalter-Poza was one of the seven plaintiffs, who, together with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Donald Trump in July 2017, accusing him of infringing upon rights which are constitutionally guaranteed to all American citizens under the First Amendment.
The other plaintiffs include a sociology professor, a comedian, a Texan cop, a doctor, a song-writer and political organizer-- all of whom had at some point been blocked from Trump’s official Twitter account @realDonaldTrump after they criticised the POTUS in some way or the other.
So what had Buckwalter-Poza, who is a Judicial Affairs Editor working with Daily Kos and an LGBTQ activist, tweeted that got her on the President’s block list?
“I made a comment about how the Russians helped win the election for Trump. It was a sure shot way to get blocked, now that I think of it,” the journalist told News18 over a Skype interview.
Sorry folks, but if I would have relied on the Fake News of CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, washpost or nytimes, I would have had ZERO chance winning WH
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2017
To be fair you didn't win the WH: Russia won it for you. pic.twitter.com/iPUXKopd9B — RPBP (@rpbp) June 6, 2017
“I don’t exactly know when he blocked me but after a while I realised that I was not able to access a lot of content on Twitter that other people could. These items would just appear as tiny grey boxes to me with no name. It was then that I realised that those were tweets and mentions of the President that I was blocked from,” Buckwalter-Poza said.
She added that at first, she couldn’t believe it.
“It was surreal to have been blocked personally by the President! And quite unfair since he uses his account to make a lot of public announcements,” the journalist and lawyer said.
This is exactly what the U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald who heard the case in Manhattan said.
“We hold that portions of the @realDonaldTrump account — the ‘interactive space’ where Twitter users may directly engage with the content of the President’s tweets — are properly analyzed under the ‘public forum’ doctrines set forth by the Supreme Court.. That such space is a designated public forum, and that the blocking of the plaintiffs based on their political speech constitutes viewpoint discrimination that violates the First Amendment,” the judge opined.
The President’s Twitter account is used by him to make several official announcements. Trump broke the news of firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as well as Secretary of Veteran Affairs David Shulkin on Twitter. He also uses it to announce appointments such as the appointment of Gina Haspel as the Director of CIA and mike Pompeo as the Secretary of State.
He also tweets about international relations and changes in his administration and foreign policy.
By this definition, his account has to be seen as part of the President’s office and thus is public property.
“Twitter today has come very close to the traditional ‘Town Hall’ session in which American citizens interact with their administrators and government. By blocking people, especially his detractors, he is just silencing dissent and denying us our right to speech and to communicate with our President,” Buckwalter-Poza told CNN News18.
The ruling does not just apply to the President's handle but to Twitter handles of all public officials. The message is clear. If the public servants are doling out ‘government speak’ or official information on social media, it ceases to be private communication as no particular group or person can be denied from receiving the said information.
The Manhattan judge does, however, suggest the President to use the ‘Mute’ option to avoid looking at unsavoury comments.
Post the victory, is Rebecca expecting to be unblocked by the President anytime soon?
Only time will tell.