Danielle Citron Joins the NYT Debate on President-elect Trump’s Twitter Choices to Block Some Critics

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on November 23, 2016


The New York TimesRoom for Debate” section is addressing a series of Issues for Trump and America. This week they examine President-elect Trump’s Twitter engagement. “Since the election, President-elect Donald J. Trump has said more to the American people on Twitter than anywhere else.” He “has harshly attacked critics and others in his tweets.” Given that one way of avoiding offensive people on Twitter is to block them from following you, the NYT asks, “Should a president be able to do that?


University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron joined the debate, and in her response, “Like Everyone Else, He Should Be Able to Talk to Whom He Wants,” Professor Citron says: “Blocking followers on Twitter is not a matter of government censorship, but rather of expressive freedom to listen and speak.” Below are a few more quotes from Professor Citron’s article:


No one else’s rights are infringed if the president blocks followers on social media. A presidential Twitter account is not hosting official business like an agency rulemaking where the public has the right to comment on policy. It is not carrying out constitutional, statutory or other ceremonial presidential duties.


While the president can block and mute to his heart’s desire, the key question is whether he should. Do the ethical implications of blocking change when a social media fan moves into the White House? It is one thing to block followers because they are engaging in destructive behavior. No one should have to tolerate harassment, stalking or threats.


But it would be a different story if the president blocked followers to insulate himself from criticism and inconvenient truths. What if the president eschews mainstream avenues for press access in favor of social media outlets? What if journalists who challenge the administration’s policies are excluded from online conversations while supportive journalists are rewarded with affirming tweets? The risk would be the loss of access to the president and information essential to the public. The president would find himself insulated from the people he is tasked with serving. … Having a heavy hand on block and mute features would be costly to democratic values of transparency and public participation.


Professor Danielle Citron is the Morton & Sophia Macht Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. Her work focuses on information privacy, cyber law, automated systems, and civil rights.


Professor Citron is the author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace (Harvard University Press 2014). Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar nominated her book as one of the “Top 20 Best Moments for Women” in 2014. Additionally, she received the 2005 “Teacher of the Year” award.