The Second Circuit held that the President of the United States had acted in a governmental capacity when he blocked users from accessing tweets sent from his Twitter account and that such Twitter account was a public forum. The court did not consider or decide whether an elected official would violate the Constitution by excluding persons from a private social media account or whether social media companies are bound by the First Amendment. The court, however, did analyze and determine that the First Amendment did not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise open dialogue merely because they expressed views with which the public official disagreed.
The court found that President Trump created his Twitter account when he was a private citizen in March 2009 and that the question before the court concerned the use of the account since his inauguration in January 2017. The court determined that the account, as it is used currently, bore the trappings of an official, state-run account because it was registered to “Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America, Washington, D.C.” and the header photographs show the President engaging in official duties. The court also noted that the President and numerous administration officials had identified the account as official and themselves had noted that the account was used to announce, describe, and defend official policies and actions of the administration. The court also noted that the National Archives had concluded that the President’s tweets were official records.
In the summer of 2017 the President blocked the plaintiffs from the account after each of them had posted replies in which they criticized the President or his policies. As a result, the plaintiffs were unable to view the President’s tweets, to reply to those tweets, or to view comment threads. The plaintiffs filed suit alleging that blocking them from the account violated their First Amendment rights. The district court held that the Twitter account was a public forum and that by blocking the plaintiffs, the President had engaged in viewpoint discrimination. The Second Circuit agreed and affirmed after holding that the account was not being used as a private account. The court also concluded that suggested workarounds were burdensome for plaintiffs, which the government even conceded.