I read that public officials blocking people on Twitter goes against the 1st amendment. So, what is the difference?

President Trump blocked someone on Twitter. A court got involved and said that this violates the First Amendment. This has been upheld by other courts who say that this stands, even on personal accounts.

And why is this any different than if a civilian who has a large political platform blocks someone they disagree with for such a reason? Isn't it a violation of the First Amendment whether or not it is an elected official?

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    "I read"... please say where you read this.
    – James K
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 21:07
  • There was a related question: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/39046/… . First amedment DO NOT applies to private companies/people in any way. Only to government. Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 7:26
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    @Nobody, the President used his (previously personal) account not just for political messaging but for government messaging. The two are hard to tell apart for a President, but there is a difference.
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 16:34
  • @Nobody, perhaps even a president might get away with running three accounts -- private, party-political and government-official -- with strict messaging discipline.
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 17:25
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    @jamesqf - You are misunderstanding what de facto means. President Trump regularly uses his personal Twitter account to make official government policy statements. That usage was why the courts rule that Trump had turned what was his personal account into what was essentially an official government account. De facto is exactly the right term. The courts did not say that every government official's personal Twitter account is de facto a government account. A threshold has to be crossed for that to happen. Making official announcements on what was a personal account crosses the threshold. Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 5:33

3 Answers 3


The constitution only limits and gives power to the branches of government. The constitution does not apply to individual citizens. Basically it tells the federal government what it can and can't do.

The original constitution and bill of rights (first 10 amendments) didn't even apply to the state governments until the 14th amendment was passed to essentially "extend" the limits imposed by the constitution to state governments as well (states now had to allow all citizens to vote, etc). State governments also have state constitutions which they must follow on top of the US constitution.

The legislature is able to pass laws (within the limits allowed by the constitution) that govern the actions of citizens, but the constitution doesn't do that directly.

So to go back to your question: since Donald Trump is an official in the US government, he must abide by the limits in the constitution, whenever acting in an official capacity as an officer of the United States. Trump has decided to use his personal twitter account as an official vehicle for his government duties, so he must use it in accordance with the law, including the first amendment.

An everyday citizen using twitter for personal (or even business) reasons is not required to follow the same set of rules that Trump must when acting as president.

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    Could you draw the line from how blocking someone (i.e. not reading their tweets) violates the First Amendment? It is not clear to me. If Donald Trump prevented someone from tweeting, that would be obvious but if Donald Trump prevents Donald Trump from being notified about someone's tweets (which is pretty much what blocking does), how does that violate the First Amendment? It protects Free Speech, but not the Freedom to be listened to, after all. Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 5:39
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    @JörgWMittag, the court opinion says "The Individual Plaintiffs further contend that their inability to view, retweet, and reply to the President’s tweets limits their ability to participate with other members of the public in the comment threads that appear below the President’s tweets." Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 6:35
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    @JörgWMittag Note that even if that wasn't the case, that's irrelevant to the question, which is really about the discrepancy between the rules applying to officials (no matter how bizarrely conceived by the courts) and those applying to others. I think that avoiding this discussion actually makes the answer better (+1).
    – Relaxed
    Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 7:14
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    The additional info about Twitter would seem helpful, unless the same arguments would apply to Donald Trump's government email?
    – Nat
    Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 11:46
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    This explains why Trump would be bound by 1A on his twitter account, but not why the 1A would prohibit someone so bound from blocking anyone. Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 22:13

You misunderstood that this applies to personal accounts - it was the other way around: they ruled that Trump's "personal" account was de facto a government account and should be treated as such. And it should go without saying that the government can't arbitrarily block people from following and discussing its (even informal) announcements.

Trump uses his account to make government announcements, describes it as the account of the president, the government directs people to this account, government staff helps him to run the account and he often first announces domestic and foreign policy decisions there. Those and other reasons are given by the court for why his specific account is a government account:

  1. The government’s contention that the President’s use of the Account
  2. during his presidency is private founders in the face of the uncontested evidence
  3. in the record of substantial and pervasive government involvement with, and
  4. control over, the Account.  First, the Account is presented by the President and
  5. the White House staff as belonging to, and operated by, the President.  The
  6. Account is registered to “Donald J. Trump, ‘45th President of the United States of
  7. America, Washington, D.C.’”  App’x at 54.  The President has described his use
  8. of the Account as “MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL.”  Id. at 55.  The White

  1. House social media director has described the Account as a channel through
  2. which “President Donald J. Trump . . . [c]ommunicat[es] directly with you, the
  3. American people!”  Id.  The @WhiteHouse account, an undoubtedly official
  4. Twitter account run by the government, “directs Twitter users to ‘Follow for the
  5. latest from @POTUS @realDonaldTrump and his Administration.”  Id.  Further,
  6. the @POTUS account frequently republishes tweets from the Account. As
  7. discussed earlier, according to the National Archives and Records
  8. Administration, the President’s tweets from the Account “are official records that
  9. must be preserved under the Presidential Records Act.”  Id. at 57.
  10. Second, since becoming President he has used the Account on almost a
  11. daily basis “as a channel for communicating and interacting with the public
  12. about his administration.”  Id. at 54.  The President utilizes White House staff to
  13. post tweets and to maintain the Account.  He uses the Account to announce
  14. “matters related to official government business,” including high‐level White

  1. House and cabinet‐level staff changes as well as changes to major national
  2. policies.  Id. at 56.  He uses the Account to engage with foreign leaders and to
  3. announce foreign policy decisions and initiatives.  Finally, he uses the “like,”
  4. “retweet,” “reply,” and other functions of the Account to understand and to
  5. evaluate the public’s reaction to what he says and does.  In sum, since he took
  6. office, the President has consistently used the Account as an important tool of
  7. governance and executive outreach.  For these reasons, we conclude that the
  8. factors pointing to the public, non‐private nature of the Account and its
  9. interactive features are overwhelming.

Court opinion, pages 17-19

If Trump used separate accounts and one was just personal (i.e. no politics) he could presumably block whomever he wants because then he would not fall under the somewhat more general criteria detailed here:

  1. Of course, not every social media account operated by a public official is a
  2. government account.  Whether First Amendment concerns are triggered when a
  3. public official uses his account in ways that differ from those presented on this
  4. appeal will in most instances be a fact‐specific inquiry. The outcome of that
  5. inquiry will be informed by how the official describes and uses the account; to
  6. whom features of the account are made available; and how others, including

  1. government officials and agencies, regard and treat the account.  But these are
  2. concerns for other cases and other days and are ones we are not required to
  3. consider or resolve on this appeal.

Court opinion, pages 20-21

Any account where he posts political content that is not completely unrelated to day-to-day politics would probably be ruled a government account according to this. That's because political statements made by a government official who has the power to at least strongly influence the government in the desired political direction can be viewed as official government announcements of intent. That would be line 17 above, "how the official [...] uses the account".

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    "(i.e. no politics)" - to clarify, politics on the personal account of a politician are perfectly fine. But as soon as a Twitter account frequently is the first place where an administration announces policy changes, or the hiring and firing of appointed government officials (before even they themselves are informed), it can and should be considered an official government channel.
    – Peter
    Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 21:07
  • @Peter That would depend on the specifics. If someone made political statements on a personal account in the sense of abstract political science statements, that would probably be personal I assume. But if it was day-to-day politics related to the office the person holds, I'm pretty sure it would be ruled a government account.
    – Nobody
    Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 6:21
  • Jesus christ, the new line spacing is awful.
    – spacetyper
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 2:29
  • @spacetyper Sorry, ideas to make it better while preserving the original line numbers?
    – Nobody
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 13:20
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    @Nobody Sorry, I didn't mean to make you think I was criticizing your answer or formatting--I think it's just a consequence of the new site-wide formatting unfortunately.
    – spacetyper
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 0:13

I read that public officials blocking people on Twitter goes against the 1st amendment. So, what is the difference?

To be precise, blocking based on viewpoint was held to go against the First Amendment. The ruling would not apply to blocking for other reasons such as off-topic content, harassment, spam, and so on.

President Trump blocked someone on Twitter. A court got involved and said that this violates the First Amendment. This has been upheld by other courts who say that this stands, even on personal accounts.

It doesn't apply to personal accounts, only to accounts that conduct official government business. And the reason is important.

Blocking someone on Twitter doesn't just stop them from seeing the announcements, it stops them from participating in the discussion about the announcements. If the President could block people for disagreeing with him, then those who agree with him could use his Tweets to build a following and grow their influence while those who disagree with him could not. A government official having this kind of "thumb on the scales" of public policy debate is what the courts found a problem with.

And why is this any different than if a civilian who has a large political platform blocks someone they disagree with for such a reason? Isn't it a violation of the First Amendment whether or not it is an elected official?

Civilians can try to influence public debate however they want. If the government tried to limit the ability of non-government actors to influence public debate, that would violate the First Amendment.

The First Amendment prevents the government from unduly influencing debates over things like public policy. Preventing private blocking would do this. Permitting official blocking based on viewpoint would do this. So the government may not prevent private blocking and may not practice official blocking based on viewpoint.


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