First Amendment scholars are crying foul over Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blocking trolls from her Twitter account. And the New York Democrat is having none of it.
In a letter to AOC released Thursday, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University argued that blocking users from seeing the freshman congresswoman’s massively popular feed is unconstitutional. The reply guys in her mentions, the legal scholars claim, have a right to be there.
“The account is a digital forum in which you share your thoughts and decisions as a member of Congress, and in which members of the public directly engage with you and with one another about matters of public policy,” Knight Executive Director Jameel Jaffer and his colleagues wrote. “We urge you to unblock any Twitter users whom you or your staff have blocked from the @AOC account because of the viewpoints they have expressed.”
The think tank acknowledged that there may be legitimate reasons for a public figure to bar users, such as abuse. Replying to the letter on Twitter Thursday night, Ocasio-Cortez pointed to “ongoing harassment” by the fewer than 20 accounts she has blocked — a tiny speck compared to her 5.2 million followers.
The Knight Institute has previously probed this gray area, suing President Donald Trump on behalf of blocked Twitter users in 2017. The plaintiffs argued not only that @RealDonaldTrump was a public forum, but also that Trump had deprived his other followers of “their right to read the speech of the dissenters who have been blocked.”
A federal judge ruled last year that Trump’s blockade of Twitter critics was unconstitutional. Last month, an appeals court upheld the decision, which legal scholars say could have far-reaching impacts on how the First Amendment applies to public officials on social media.
The showdown with AOC comes several weeks after Dov Hikind, a former New York state assemblyman, similarly sued the Democratic congresswoman for blocking him on Twitter. Hikind founded a group called Americans Against Antisemitism and largely rubs shoulders online with right-wing media types that obsessively criticize “The Squad” of freshmen Democratic congresswomen of which Ocasio-Cortez is a part.
The lawsuit he filed last month also pleads the case of blocked accounts including Liz Wheeler, a TV host for the staunchly pro-Trump One America News Network, and Ryan Saavedra, a writer for Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire site. Hikind responded to the Knight Institute-AOC flareup Thursday night with the sort of vapid message common in his corner of the internet: Debate me, coward.
Cover: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., attends a House Oversight Committee hearing on high prescription drugs prices shortly after her private meeting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, July 26, 2019. The high-profile freshman and the veteran Pelosi have been critical of one another recently. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)