Should Tweeting Politicians be able to Block Users?

An interesting debate has been opened up by lawyers who have argued that President Trump should not block Twitter users from posting on Twitter. I assume this issue concerns his account @realDonaldTrump (32M followers) but the same issue would arise over his newer and official account as President @realDonaldTrump (almost 19M followers).


Apparently, the President has blocked users who may have made rude or critical comments to one or more of his Twitter posts. Regardless of the specifics of Donald Trump’s tweets, and specific individuals blocked, the general question is: Should any American politician who tweets be able to block any user without violating the user’s first amendment rights? I would say, yes, but others, including the lawyers posing this question, would disagree.

I would think that any user has a right to block any other user, particularly if they appear to be a malicious user, bot, or simply obnoxious. I’d argue this on the basis that these are the affordances of Twitter, and the rules of the site are – or should be – known by users. Moreover, the potential for blocking is a means of maintaining some level of civility on one’s social media. Having rude or obnoxious users posting harassing comments could frighten other users off the site, and thereby undermine a space for dialogue and the provision of information. If there is no way for a social media site to moderate its users, its very survival is at risk.

I actually argued this in the mid-1990s, when the issue surrounded electronic bulletin boards, and some of the first public forums, such as Santa Monica, California’s Public Electronic Network (PEN).* Essentially, I maintained that any democratic forum is governed by rules, such as Robert’s Rules of Order for many face-to-face meetings. Such rules evolved in response to difficulties in conducting meeting without rules. Some people will speak too long and not take turns. Some will insult or talk over the speaker. Democratic communication requires some rules, even thought this may sound somewhat ironic. As long as participants know the rules in advance, rules of order seem legitimate to enabling expression. Any rule suppresses some expression in order to enable more equitable, democratic access to a meeting. Obviously, limiting a tweet to 140 characters is a restriction on speech, but it has fostered a rich medium for political communication.

In this sense, blocking a Twitter user is a means for moderation, and if known in advance, and not used in an arbitrary or discriminatory way, it should be permitted. That said, I will post a Twitter poll and let you know what respondents believe. Bryan M. Sullivan (2017), an attorney, seems to argue a very different position in his Forbes article.** I respectively disagree, but wonder what the Twitter community thinks, while it is easy to guess that they will be on the side of not being blocked. But please think about it, before you decide.


*Dutton, W. H. (1996), ‘Network Rules of Order: Regulating Speech in Public Electronic Fora,’ Media, Culture, and Society, 18 (2), 269-90. Reprinted in David, M., and Millward, P. (2014) (eds), Researching Society Online. (London: Sage), pp. 269-90.

**Sullivan, B. (2017), ‘Blocked by the President: Are Trump’s Twitter Practices Violating Free Speech?’, Forbes, available here:

The Rules of Real World Games & the RNC

There is a debate underway in the Republican Party (the RNC) on the rules governing the primary elections and caucuses and their translation of their results into delegates to the party’s convention.

One side argues that the rules are unfair, in that the popular vote is not being mapped proportionately into the delegate selection process, which is biased in favor of one or another candidate. The other side argues that the rules were set months ago, and that everyone knew the rules of the game, so criticizing the rules is simply a reflection of candidates not being prepared to compete under the existing rules.

So many pundits and party officials seem to buy into the ‘rules were set and known’ camp, that I must protest. Come on.

Think about our economy. Imagine someone arguing that income inequalities are unfair, and others arguing that everyone knew the rules of the game since they could read, so you shouldn’t whine about the outcome. The poor might not have known the rules, or were not prepared to compete under the rules, but maybe the rules advantage the more well to do. Whatever the reason, this camp argues that we can’t question, much less change the rules.

Well, in the real world, as opposed to games for entertainment, we do change the rules of the game. This is a basic difference between the real world and play. And in play, if the rules of the game are unfair, people stop playing the game. In the real world, people assess the outcomes of rules, and adjust them overtime to ensure they are fair.

In politics, in contrast to our economic system, the rules are always as much at issue as are the plays and strategies of the players. In fact, in politics, the most effective strategies are to change the rules of the game.

So it is ridiculous to argue that it is not acceptable to challenge the fairness or democratic quality of the rules underpinning delegate selection or any other set of rules governing elections. The GOP within particular states should defend their rules, and explain why they are fair. To say they are not open to contention is a way to avoid the charge. Just because the rules have been set does not mean they are inherently fair.

Should university faculty restrict use of social media in the classroom?

Do you think that university instructors should restrict the use of social media in the classroom? While some believe that social media might undermine the boundaries of the classroom, such as by sharing with colleagues who are not enrolled in the class, it is arguable whether this battle has been lost long ago, such as by sharing notes, or audio taping a lecture. Should we relax about this, and let students use social media in any way they find valuable in the classroom? Are you aware of progressive policies to govern the use of social media in the classroom?