Hours later, the novelist Stephen King let it be known that he too had been stymied from viewing Trump’s 140-character missives. Jordan Uhl, an organizer known for quickly responding to Trump’s tweets with what can best be described as trollish behavior, said he also was blocked on Tuesday. As did Brandon Neely, a former Guantanamo Bay guard who’s been a Trump critic.
The seemingly thought-through effort by Trump, or whoever is running his account, to keep people from viewing his tweets is not the most outrageous example of government secrecy exhibited by this administration. It may not be the most brazen act of non-transparency to be undertaken on Tuesday (Congress gets that honor). And Trump certainly isn’t the only politician who has decided he can’t stand the barrage of criticism that comes with the territory of putting up a Twitter post.
But for First Amendment watchdogs, it is a troublesome trend that they’ve been trying to stave off through a mix of advocacy and subtle legal threats.
The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University is representing the legion of the Trump-blocked. Their argument has been that there is something fundamentally unconstitutional about a president restricting access to what are definitionally public proclamations.
“Twitter is many things at once,” the Institute’s executive director, Jameel Jaffer, told HuffPost. “It is a broadcast mechanism and being blocked from the president’s Twitter account means it is harder to get access to his statements on Twitter and sometimes those statements are important.... If you’re a critic you don’t have access on the same terms as everyone else.”
Though a request was forwarded to Trump’s social media guru Dan Scavino Jr., the White House did not return a request for comment as to what prompted Tuesday’s round of blocks or what criteria are being used to determine who finds themselves on the short end of a Trump Twitter backlash.
The exclusions started well before Tuesday. Jaffer said that all told, “close to 40 people” now have reached out to the Knight Institute to alert them that they’ve been blocked. And they all have one defining trait: being critical of the president. That includes David Roth, a writer who made up a fake Trump quote that Trump re-tweeted, the tech entrepreneur AJ Joshi, and Holly O’Reilly, whose account is @AynRandPaulRyan.
Those who have been blocked won’t fundamentally miss all that much. Though they may be in the dark the moment that it’s posted, a Trump tweet ricochets across the Internet quickly. But as Jaffer notes, by blocking these users, Trump is prohibiting their ability to reply to him, which in this case makes a material difference since it seems quite likely that the president reads his Twitter notifications. “We know that because he blocks his critics,” Jaffer said.
In the meantime, VoteVets is seeking to capitalize on its victimhood. Shortly after being blocked, it sent out a fundraising solicitation asking for donations “as a way of saying that you will not let President Trump silence progressive veterans and military family members who are fighting to resist his dangerous agenda.”