A statement by the President: pic.twitter.com/SVDtqo1iD2
— Real Press Sec. (@RealPressSecBot) November 12, 2017
The question of whether the personal or campaign social media accounts of elected officials are official statements has been debated for a decade now, with increasing relevance to our politics as more politicians and member of the public join. This week, federal government lawyers helped to put the debate to rest, at least for the presidency, when their filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia stated that President Donald J. Trump’s tweets at @realDonaldTrump are ‘official statements of the President of the United States.’ (Hat tip National Law Journal)
This isn’t the first time the question has come up: in June, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that statements the president makes on Twitter are official statements, but questions remain about transparency and accountability.
While White House lawyers assured the National Archives and Records Administration in April that the president’s tweets were being preserved under the Presidential Records Act, but have provided little public evidence or assurance of how they have done so subsequently. Our understanding is that the president’s direct messages and deleted tweets should be preserved as well under the law. President Trump’s deleted tweets from his personal account and @POTUS are archived by Politwoops, which ProPublica now operates.
The federal government’s determination that @realDonaldTrump’s tweets are official statements by the president adds further weight to arguments that blocking American citizens from following him on Twitter based upon the viewpoints they express violates their First Amendment rights.
This issue has been the subject of a lawsuit filed in July in the Southern District of New York by the Knight First Amendment Institute. That lawsuit has since been further supported an amicus brief by First Amendment scholars this November, in which they convincingly argue that President Trump has created a public forum that he should not be able to deny his constituents from participating in.
Whether Trump does it or another government official with access to the account is unclear, due to the lack of transparency about who else operates the president’s personal account, but the outcome is not to those who can no longer comment on threads.
What is clear is that Presidents of the United States of America should never block fellow Americans from following them on Twitter – particularly a president that touts the use of the platform to talk directly with the entire public. A president’s statements are not just made for people who voted for him or support his policies or politics.
Unfortunately, Trump is not alone: other local, state and federal politicians are also blocking their constituents on Twitter.
Doing so sends the wrong message to the public about whom they serve. Listening and responding to members of the public that they represent is a minimum expectation for public servants in any democratic state, whether those voices are raised in protest, petition, email, send letters or reply on social media. While there are practical challenges to making sense of millions of emails, tweets, call or letters, blocks are not the solution to filter failure.
Regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, we think every civil servants or elected official should stop blocking constituents, from the president to governors, mayors, state legislators, city councilors or alderman.