First Amendment Group Urges Ocasio-Cortez to Unblock Twitter Users

By Masooma Haq
Masooma Haq
Masooma Haq
August 30, 2019 Updated: August 30, 2019

A first amendment advocacy group is asking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to unblock Twitter users who have differing political viewpoints from her, saying that blocking twitter users is “unconstitutional.”

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University say that part of their mission is to defend “the freedoms of speech and the press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education.”

The group sent Ocasio-Cortez a letter on Aug. 28 in which they said, “Based on the facts as we understand them, the @AOC account is a ‘public forum’ within the meaning of the First Amendment.”

“You use the account as an extension of your office to share information about congressional hearings, to explain policy proposals, to advocate legislation, and to solicit public comment about issues relating to government,” the letter stated. “The @AOC account is important to you as a legislator, to your constituents, and to others who seek to understand and influence your legislative decisions and priorities.”

Ocasio-Cortez has about 5.3 million followers on her @AOC Twitter account while her official congressional account, @RepAOC, has 188,000 followers.

In response to the request to unblock twitter users, Ocasio-Cortez sent a tweet that disagreed with The Knight First Amendment Institute:

“1. I have 5.2 million followers. Less than 20 accounts are blocked for ongoing harassment,” she wrote. “0 are my constituents. 2. Harassment is not a viewpoint. Some accounts, like the Daily Caller, posted fake nude photos of me & abused my comments to spread it. No one is entitled to abuse.”

Yesterday when Laura Ingraham of Fox News questioned Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter about the “less than 20” twitter accounts being blocked, Ocasio-Cortez, making another reference to The Knight First Amendment Institute’s letter, responded, “See? You’re a neo-Nazi fan favorite and I don’t block you for defending white supremacist viewpoints and mocking gun violence survivors.”

The First Amendment group did say that it is constitutional to block users when “speech is threatening.” There have been officials, however, that said they did not threaten the congresswoman but were blocked anyway.

Former New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat, sued Ocasio-Cortez in July for blocking him on her personal Twitter account.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has blocked me on Twitter yesterday, apparently because my critique of her tweets and policies have been too stinging,” Hikind said in a statement announcing the suit.

Ocasio-Cortez was also sued by New York Republican congressional hopeful Joseph Saladino after he was blocked by her.

In response to the lawsuit Ocasio-Cortez attorney Allyson Belovin said that the suit should be voided because Ocasio-Cortez only blocked users on her personal twitter account, not her official account.

“The complaint itself concedes that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez maintains an official twitter account @repAOC that is completely separate from her personal @AOC account,” Belovin wrote to Judge Frederic Block.

The Knight First Amendment Institute does not think Belovin’s argument that Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter account is personal holds up legally.

“In pending litigation, your attorneys have argued that the @AOC account is not subject to the  First Amendment because it is a personal account. As we have explained above, that characterization is incorrect. Further, while we understand that you have another account that is nominally your “official” one, the fact remains that you use the @AOC account as an extension of your office.”

Masooma Haq
Masooma Haq