In the case of the “Trump Twitter Ruling,” where a Federal judge ruled that public officials could not block followers on Twitter (and presumably other social media platforms), the unpopularity of President Donald Trump is so great, that a case which normally would have went in favor of the defendant, went the way of the plaintiff, and in so doing, provided even more damage to cyberharrassment laws filed by state legislatures. This blog and vlog post is not intended to lay out in detail the legal cases that support this author’s argument, but to give a view that any non-lawyer can understand, and hopefully support.
There are people who establish accounts on social media and Internet platforms, or even whole wesbites, purely for the purpose of causing emotional harm to someone, or even suggesting physical harm to that person.
This has given rise to a number of digital devices, also called coding, that serve to disallow such actions, wherever possible. YouTube has such a system, and due in part to my years of lobbying to stop being called a racial slur by trolls.
In the case of Twitter, we, you and I, can elect to block someone if we feel they are harrassing us in some way.
Indeed, Twitter’s process is such that if I determine something is acting in a way that causes me emotional harm, I can file a report – the automatic default in the process Twitter’s engineers have designed is to block the offending person. This is the system Presidetn Trump and his White House employees used in blocking those would sought legal relieft to make him and his staff unblock them.
In that case, the decision, what’s called a “summary judgment,” holds that the plaintiff’s right to free speech “trumps” the President’s right to block his or her tweets on Twitter. But what the decision does not consider is the room that even what would seem to be the cases most defending “free speech” give to examples where public officials are being, in point of discovered fact, the targets of intent to cause malace. Even in those instances, decisions leading to rulings always take into account the need for protection against intent to do malace.
I propose that a simple evaluation of how the Twitterverse looks at a series of tweets, as well as the reaction of the person targeted, should be the determining factor in whether an applied block was legal, and with more weight given to the person targeted. My statement points to a legal problem that must be resolved. For example, the 1974 Supreme Court case of Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc. gives states wide latitude in determining the degree to which malace was intended in a written account. The trouble is, Gertz established a high bar for determing what a public official or public figure is, and was argued at a time before the Internet, and the establishment of the legal term of the “limited purpose public figure”.
The “limited purpose public figure” is not a household name, but becomes famous due to a particular issue, like Jennifer Schulte in the Oakland BBQ Incident. Her existence and public opinion were communicated via social media, first. The public has rendered a decision, but even then, there’s no case that fully, beyond a shadow of a doubt, defends anyone’s right to baasically ask her to submit to public views she may not want to here. Free speech is worth defending, but not to the point of deliberately causing harm to the person targeted – that person, whether we like it or not, is entitled to the same constitutional rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit oif happinesss.
It’s for that reason, I believe the Trump Twitter Decision is wrong, and would lose on appeal.
And I’m a Democrat.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media