Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

Thursday, July 11, 2019 1:00 am

Furthermore ...

Uniquely 21st century affirmation

Need a quick primer on Twitter? A federal court opinion issued this week includes a masterful summary of how Twitter users and followers interact:

“When one user replies to another user's tweet, a 'comment thread' is created. When viewing a tweet, this comment thread appears below the original tweet and includes both the first-level replies (replies to the original tweet) and second-level replies (replies to the first-level replies). The comment threads 'reflect multiple overlapping “conversations” among and across groups of users' and are a 'large part' of what makes Twitter a 'social' media platform.”

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was mapping the twists and turns of tweets as it affirmed a lower court's decision denying President Donald Trump the right to block users from his official Twitter account.

Lawyers had appealed that earlier ruling, contending @realDonaldTrump is a personal account. Trump, they argued, has the right to block anyone he wishes, for whatever reason. But the court ruled the account is clearly tied to the president's public role, noting he even uses it to announce or reverse important policies.

The significance goes beyond a particular public official and his particularly busy cellphone, though.

The decision recognizing the U.S. Constitution's jurisdiction in the tweetosphere is a robust assertion of the right to free speech, recognizing that an online gathering and conversation convened at an official site is much like a town meeting, in which people come together to express their opinions and react to others' comments. Those commenters, the court ruled, cannot be silenced just because the official who initiated the discussion disagrees with them.

“In resolving this appeal,” Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote, “we remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”