Tweets, Trump, and the Best Test of Truth

Federal District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled because President Trump is a public figure, his Twitter account is a public forum. Thus, no blocking people allowed; doing so is nothing more than viewpoint discrimination that violates the First Amendment.



In America we can speak our mind free from government censure. This does not mean we will be free from the reaction of others who do not like what we say, only the government can not punish us for it. We encourage a “market place of ideas” as the great Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote in Abrams v. United States (1919) “when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe . . . that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market . . .. That at any rate is the theory of our constitution.”

Holmes followed John Milton’s AREOPAGITICA (1644), “Let her [truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?” Holmes would have also known Jefferson preached the People, “may safely be trusted to hear everything true and false, and to form a correct judgment between them . . .”

But if you read Holmes’ statement closely he does not say the free and open “marketplace of ideas” will always produce truth, only it is “the best test of truth.” John Stuart Mill in ON LIBERTY (1859) regarded the premise truth would trump falsehood in a free society as nothing more than “a piece of idle sentimentality.”

After all, the ancient Athenian Demosthenes in the fourth century B.C. warned, “it would be dangerous if there ever happened to coexist a considerable number of men who were bold and clever speakers, but full of . . . disgraceful wickedness. For the people would be led astray by them to make many mistakes.”

Thus, truth may not always win. But its only chance is for all the information to be available to everyone, especially when it comes from the government.

Trump is president of the United States, and thus everything he says in public belongs to all of us (whether we like it or not). This would be true even if he did not use his twitter account to conduct public business, such as when he fires cabinet members by tweet. We own it, not “the Donald.”

Sure, some government communication is “top-secret” or “classified” and government needs that to function in the modern world. But, the information our democracy produces still belongs to us, and the First Amendment allows us to get it eventually. And certainly nothing in Trump’s public tweets fits that category unless he violates the law himself and tweets something he should not.

So, no blocking his fellow citizens from his tweets allowed. Because as Demosthenes also explained “of all states,” democracies are “the most antagonistic” to political leaders “of infamous habits” because “every man is at liberty to publish their shame.” Indeed, “even the lone individual, uttering the deserved reproach, makes the guilty wince.”

As the court found, Trump can not block people he does not like from his tweets just because they make him wince.