Is There a Right to Tweet at Your President?

March 8, 2020

The U.S. Supreme Court has developed the public forum doctrine to protect the First Amendment rights of speakers in places of assembly and expression. The doctrine facilitates free expression by restricting the government’s ability to discriminate against or regulate speech in state- controlled public forums. In 2019, two federal courts of appeals extended the doctrine to protect speakers who express themselves in the interactive spaces that elected politicians control on their personal social media accounts. In Davison v. Randall, the Fourth Circuit held that a local official’s Facebook page was a public forum and, therefore, the official could neither block any Facebook users for posting critical comments nor delete any such comments. In Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University v. Trump, the Second Circuit held that President Trump had created a public forum on his Twitter account and likewise could not block users for criticizing him. This Note proposes that the respective circuit courts misapplied the public forum doctrine to the elected officials’ social media accounts and that their rulings unconstitutionally compelled the speech of Facebook and Twitter. This Note argues that viewing these rulings as compelled speech adequately protects social media companies’ First Amendment right to enable users to screen content and that such a right prevails over the public’s free speech interest in commenting on politicians’ social media accounts.

March 2020

No. 4