The now heavily muddied waters regarding Twitter’s and other tech giants’ legal liability and status in the United States might have gained some clarity – from the point of view of the tech giants themselves – thanks to the latest ruling of the US District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
But if a recent ruling an a Missouri court is anything to go by, the US democracy itself, as that beacon for the rest of the world, will not be gaining any new proponents from the messy outcome of this particular case – not any time soon, anyway.
This is not about any old straight-forward Twitter controversy – namely, it’s not about Twitter blocking an account for any number of its own, often allegedly political and ideological reasons – or indeed, for no apparent reason at all, as has all too often been the cases.
This time, the controversy tried before the Missouri court had to do with one Twitter user’s right to block another one on the platform. A no-brainer, you might think? Well, think again.
The Missouri court found that one Mike Campbell – suing his Republican state representative – had every right to impose his “interactive space” onto the said Republican, Cheri Toalson Reisch – who had previously chosen to block Campbell on Twitter.
But the Missouri court chose to cite none other than the US Constitution’s First Amendment to obliterate the Republican representative’s online rights:
“[Campbell]’s continued exclusion from the interactive space of [Toalson Reisch]’s tweets based on viewpoint is inconsistent with the First Amendment. The Court thus concludes [Toalson Reisch] has established the deprivation of a constitutional right for purposes of his 1983 claim.”
Campbell sued Toalson Reisch in 2018 after she blocked him on Twitter, saying the reason was that he had retweeted content critical of her.
According to the Missouri court ruling – Twitter is a public platform. And blocking anyone’s political view is a breach of the First Amendment.
And it will be fascinating to find out how, if in any way at all, Twitter itself responds to all of this – given its recent history of ignoring any First Amendment arguments.
This ruling follows similar precedent from other courts on similar cases.