A federal judge in New York on Thursday pondered one of the most vexing dilemmas for any prolific Twitter user: why block a troll when the mute button could do?
That is one of the questions posed in a lawsuit alleging that President Donald Trump has violated the constitutional rights of individuals he has blocked on Twitter, a medium that has come to define much of his public persona.
At a hearing held in a small, crowded courtroom, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald considered whether Trump’s Twitter account constitutes a public forum and whether his tweets represent a “state action.”
Midway through Thursday’s proceeding, Buchwald offered an idea for a “settlement”: by muting the unfriendly users rather than blocking them, Trump would be shielded from the criticism while the critics would still be able to engage freely.
“Why are we here?” she asked. “Don’t we have a solution that serves the interests of the plaintiffs, serves the interests of the president?”
The suit was filed last year by the Knight First Amendment Institute along with seven individuals who have been blocked by Trump on Twitter. They contend that the president’s Twitter account is a public forum and that, by virtue of his status as a government official, he cannot block them on the platform because they offer views with which he disagrees. The government has moved to have the case dismissed.
Katharine Fallow, an attorney for the plaintiffs, indicated that her side was amenable to Buchwald’s suggestion that Trump mute rather than block, though she said it “not necessarily a perfect solution.” Justice Department lawyer Michael Baer, however, said that both muting and blocking users on Twitter are “within the president’s associational freedoms.” Trump has a right to determine who he spends time with on Twitter, Baer argued.
But Buchwald was clearly serious about the proposal; as the two-hour hearing reached its close early Thursday afternoon, the judge urged the two sides to “consider my earlier suggestion.”
“It might be better to resolve it in a practical fashion,” she said.
Outside the courthouse, three of the plaintiffs who were in attendance for Thursday’s hearing talked to reporters about Buchwald’s suggestion.
Two of them, Rebecca Buckwalter and Philip Cohen, expressed skepticism regarding Buchwald’s idea. Buckwalter, a journalist at the…