In a major shift in the legal framework for online communication and social media, the US Supreme Court heard arguments this week on whether public officials may block individuals from their social media accounts in response to criticism.
The case, Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump, involves a group of seven individuals who sued former President Donald Trump for blocking them on Twitter. Under the Trump administration, the Department of Justice defended the president’s right to restrict access to his Twitter account, arguing that as an elected official the president is allowed to curate his personal social media presence as he chooses.
The Knight First Amendment Institute, however, argues that the president’s social media accounts can constitute a type of “public forum” in which the president speaks as an official representative of the government. The Supreme Court will now have to consider whether this distinction matters and whether blocking people from such a forum is unconstitutional.
The question of whether public officials have the right to block critics in this way has attracted widespread attention, with advocacy groups and technology companies joining the case to make legal arguments on both sides. A decision in this case could have serious implications for how public officials communicate with their constituents on social media going forward, and how citizens exercise their free speech rights online.
In recent years, social media has become an increasingly important platform for civil discourse, and one in which the government and elected officials have had to learn to navigate. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will set an important precedent for how public officials engage with the people they serve online.