Are Trump's tweets 'statements of policy'?

A free speech group sent a letter to President Trump demanding that he unblock Twitter trolls and other critics because it violates the First Amendment.  The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University in New York says the president blocking anybody suppresses free speech in a public forum.


Alex Abdo, the institute's senior staff attorney, likened Twitter to a modern form of town hall meeting or public comment periods for government agency proposals, both venues where U.S. law requires even-handed treatment of speech.

Eric Goldman, a Santa Clara University law professor who focuses on internet law, said that previous cases involving politicians blocking users on Facebook (FB.O) supported the Knight Institute's position.

If the institute should sue, Trump could claim his @realDonaldTrump account is for personal use and separate from his official duties as president, Goldman said. But he called that defense "laughable."

Trump also has a presidential @POTUS Twitter account. The Knight Institute said its arguments would apply with "equal force" to both accounts.

Trump's Twitter use has drawn intense media attention for his unvarnished commentary about his agenda and attacks on critics. His tweets are often retweeted tens of thousands of times, and can shape the news cycle.

Legal experts have said his tweets may directly affect policy. A chain of postings about his travel ban may hamper his administration's defense in courts.

Trump's own staff can't agree on whether his tweets are statements of policy or expressions of presidential opinion on social media.


On Monday, national security aide Sebastian Gorka insisted they are "not policy," while adviser Kellyanne Conway blasted the media's "obsession" with them. A day later and the message from Press Secretary Sean Spicer was radically different.

Asked whether Trump's tweets constituted official statements, Spicer said, "The president is the president of the United States so they're considered official statements by the president of the United States."

Earlier, Spicer also defended the content of Trump's messages on Twitter, pointing out their effectiveness during the 2016 campaign.

"The president is the most effective messenger on his agenda, and I think his use of social media—he now has a collective total of close to 110 million people across different platforms—give him an opportunity to speak directly to the American people, which has proved to be a very effective tool," he said. "The same people who are critiquing his use of it now critiqued it during the election, and it turned out pretty well for him then."

The president's tweets are statements of policy.  Any time a president opens his mouth – even if the communication is not meant for the public, as in a hot mic situation – those statements carry the weight and prestige of the president of the United States.

Spicer's observation about the effectiveness of Trump's tweets during the campaign ignores the monumental difference between candidate Trump and President Trump.  And there are real-world consequences when the president's tweets are directly at odds with policies he has proclaimed previously, including the tweets about his travel ban that contradict what the Justice Department has been saying and that could cost him at the Supreme Court, and his tweets yesterday regarding the Qatar crisis that were completely at odds with what the Pentagon had been saying about the matter.. 

But even if they are statements of policy, does the president have the right to block trolls and other critics?  The notion that Twitter is a "modern-day town hall" is absurd.  Questioners at town halls don't call the president names or question his loyalty to the U.S.  I think this kind of behavior by "critics" deserves to be blocked because it distracts from the ability of all other users to read and understand the president's positions.  It's like standing up in the middle of a Trump speech and screaming at him, attempting to prevent him from speaking.

Cluttering up the president's Twitter page with rants by paranoid, hysterical liberals should lead to the perpetrators being blocked.  Twitter may be a public forum, but the account belongs to the individual.  There's nothing in the Constitution that prevents an individual from policing his own Twitter page.

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