Last year, a federal court ruled that Donald Trump’s habit of blocking people on Twitter was unconstitutional. This week, that decision was upheld by an appeals court. And now New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is being sued on the same grounds.
AOC is the target of two separate lawsuits, both accusing her of violating people’s First Amendment rights by blocking them on Twitter. One suit comes from Dov Hikind, a former Brooklyn Assemblyman and founder of the group Americans Against Anti-Semitism. While technically a Democrat, Hikind is a vocal Trump supporter and regularly tweets 4chan-esque views and disparaging remarks about AOC and other freshman lawmakers, including frequent anti-Muslim attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar.
Hikind says AOC blocked him after he responded to one of her tweets about concentration camps at the border. He told the New York Times, “She has a right to have that position. That’s not the issue. The question is why is she afraid of other people’s positions?”
The other suit comes from Joey Salads (real name Joseph Saladino), a YouTuber known for racist “pranks” now running for Congress himself. He says Ocasio-Cortez is trying to “suppress contrary views.” He also claims that he doesn’t really care if she blocks him (he can still see her tweets if he wants to by using a different account), but that she’s violating his right to free speech by “excluding” him from “the discussion and conversation.”
And that was, in fact, the same reason given for ruling against Trump’s ability to block users. It’s not just about seeing the tweets or being able to scream at the president–it’s about the conversation that happens around Trump’s tweets.
The judge in that case declared the “interactive space” around Trump’s tweets to be a “designated public forum,” and said it’s a violation of a person’s First Amendment rights to be blocked from that space.
So as much as it pains me to agree with Joey Salads about anything, I think he makes a good point, in as much as I thought the Knight First Amendment Institute had a good point when they made the same argument against Trump.
Where the arguments against AOC start to fall apart is in the insistence that this is an issue of holding liberals to the same standards as conservatives. “At the end of the day, it’s like a social experiment to see if the standards will apply equally,” Saladino told the NYT. “Will the courts rule the same way against A.O.C. as Trump?”
I have officially filed my lawsuit against AOC for blocking me on twitter.
Trump is not allowed to block people, will the standards apply equally?
Stay tuned to find out! pic.twitter.com/0RmHI7x9Qc
— Saladino for Congress (@JoeySalads) July 9, 2019
Hikind, too, seems to think that if the ruling doesn’t go the same way, it’s automatically an issue of liberal bias and shadowbanning and all the other nonsense words conservatives love to shout online.
— Dov Hikind (@HikindDov) July 9, 2019
In reality, there are a lot of other issues at play here and some interesting questions that will be important to answer and set precedent for as our elected representatives are only going to get More Online as time goes on. But these are not identical cases.
There are some similarities, like the argument that @AOC is not Ocasio-Cortez’s official government account. (That would be @RepAOC, which is used much less frequently.) But, like Trump, it’s her personal account that she uses to discuss politics. I myself have praised Ocasio-Cortez for using her social media platforms to make politics more accessible, so I’m not going to argue that those accounts aren’t political spaces.
One big difference is that as President, Trump’s constituents include all Americans. Could the courts rule that AOC needs to be available to all Americans, or is it possible she could only be barred from blocking those in her district? I don’t know the answer to that; I’m just saying that there are some interesting questions here and that reducing it to if I don’t win in court, it’s proof of a liberal conspiracy or whatever is just deliberately obtuse.
What do you all think of these lawsuits?
(via NYT, image: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
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