It is illegal for President Donald Trump to block people, especially Americans, from his personal Twitter account, a United States federal judge ruled on Wednesday.
The ruling has been described as a major victory for free speech as modern communication platforms continue to stretch freedom of expression laws.
It followed a litigation by seven users who alleged the president unlawfully barred them from viewing his Twitter feed, according to U.S. media reports.
Naomi Reice Buchwald of the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York ruled that Twitter serves as a “designated public forum” and is protected under the plaintiffs’ First Amendment, which is the aspect of U.S. Constitution that deals with free speech.
Mr Trump’s “exclusion” of the people he blocked on Twitter amounts to a breach of their rights to free speech, the Politico reported.
Other media reports said the judge advised Mr Trump to mute critics if he doesn’t want to see their activities, but they would be able to see and reply his own tweets.
The U.S. Department of Justice had argued that the president and other public officials should be allowed to block people they see as irritants online in order to protect themselves.
The ruling, which was instituted by Columbia University in 2017, comes as debates are widening about how to bridge the gap between public officials’ rights to privacy and citizens’ rights to free speech and demand for accountability.
In Nigeria, public officials are known to block people on Twitter. In 2016, the Nigerian Army blocked Kayode Ogundamisi, a Nigerian activist, for exposing the poor conditions of the Nigerian soldiers on the front line against Boko Haram.
Mr Ogundami was corroborating a report about acute shortages in both weapons and food supplies to the troops.
Twitter users have also complained that they were blocked other official handles, including one used by the president (@NGRPresident) and the official State House communication department (@DigiCommsNG),
Serving senators across the major political parties have also been accused of frequently using the block button against critics. A citizen also complained about Governor Ayo Fayose blocking him after he expressed harsh views on a matter in 2017.
But Ms Buchwald held that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring a case against Mr Trump’s spokesperson, Sarah Sanders, and a former media aide Hope Hicks, both of whom were joined as respondents in the suit.
The judge said she hoped Mr Trump will unblock those he had blocked on Twitter in the wake of her rule, although it was not immediately clear whether the president would take the suggestion.