Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Sued for Blocking Critics on Twitter - The New York Times

New York | Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Sued for Blocking Critics on Twitter

A federal appeals panel’s ruling forbidding President Trump from blocking social media critics is being cited in two lawsuits against Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.

Image One of the lawsuits against Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was filed by Dov Hikind, a former New York State assemblyman who often criticizes her positions. Credit Credit Erin Schaff/The New York Times

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President Trump and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are diametrical opposites in nearly every way, except perhaps for their shared home state of New York and their social media dominance.

But now there may be another thing that binds the two: a federal appeals panel ruling on Tuesday found that Mr. Trump, a Republican, has been violating the Constitution by blocking people from following him on Twitter because they criticized or mocked him.

That ruling is now the basis of two lawsuits filed against Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, accusing her of blocking people because of their opposing political stances.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has 4.7 million followers on her personal Twitter account, @AOC, which she uses to frequently discuss policy and advocate her proposals, such as the Green New Deal and her belief that the camps holding children and other undocumented immigrants seeking asylum at the Texas border are “concentration camps.”

Dov Hikind, a former assemblyman from Brooklyn who is the founder of Americans Against Anti-Semitism, said he regularly replied to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s tweets, but was blocked on July 8.

Joseph Saladino, a YouTube personality known as “Joey Salads” who is running for a congressional seat representing Brooklyn and Staten Island, said he was blocked on May 9.

But because Ms. Ocasio-Cortez uses the account to discuss policies that affect them, she cannot use it to “suppress contrary views” and violate his First Amendment rights to free speech, Mr. Hikind said in his lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Brooklyn.

“It’s very clear based on the court’s ruling that A.O.C. is violating my constitutional rights to free speech by excluding me,” Mr. Hikind said in an interview. “She doesn’t want me to be a part of the discussion and conversation.”

Mr. Hikind said he was blocked after criticizing Ms. Ocasio-Cortez for her concentration camp comments.

“She has a right to have that position. That’s not the issue. The question is why is she afraid of other people’s positions?” he added.

Mr. Saladino, whose pranks have been criticized as racist, filed a separate lawsuit in Federal District Court in Manhattan. He said that as a practical matter, he does not care if Ms. Ocasio-Cortez blocked him because he can still access her Twitter comments from an anonymous account.

He said his complaint is a test of whether there is a double standard in the courts for liberals and conservatives.

“At the end of the day, it’s like a social experiment to see if the standards will apply equally,” Mr. Saladino said. “Will the courts rule the same way against A.O.C. as Trump?”

Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, declined to comment about pending litigation.

Blocking on social media is done across political party lines. In 2017, for example, ProPublica sent letters asking all 50 governors and 22 federal agencies whether they had blocked people on social media. Five Republican governors, four Democrats and four agencies responded with information about people they had blocked. Many agencies and more than half the governors did not respond.

In New York, the issue has arisen with Representative Peter King, a 14-term Republican congressman who represents parts of Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island. In April, the New York Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue Mr. King if he did not unblock the 70 or so constituents who were banned from his “Congressman Peter King” Facebook page for criticizing him.

In May, Mr. King added a new Facebook page that he said would be his official government account, and that he would not ban people from it.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s @AOC account is not her official congressional account. Her official congressional account, @RepAOC, has 172,000 followers and was last updated July 5, as of Wednesday afternoon.

Jacob Weinstein, Mr. Hikind’s lawyer, noted that the court ruling concerned the @realDonaldTrump personal account, with its 61.8 million followers, that Mr. Trump uses most often to comment on Twitter, not his official presidential Twitter account.

“It comes down to the First Amendment,” Mr. Weinstein said. “Twitter is a public forum. Imagine a politician is giving a town hall. Imagine if they only select people they like.”

In the appeals court ruling against Mr. Trump, the panel considered the function of the social media account over its form, said Katie Fallow, a senior attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University who filed and argued the lawsuit against the president. The ruling doesn’t prevent elected officials from acting to prevent true threats or from muting individuals on Twitter.

“We certainly think that Representative Ocasio-Cortez has been a very enthusiastic and good advocate for free speech and dissent,” Ms. Fallow added, “and we hope she would look at this court decision and conclude the better way is not to block people that are criticizing her.”

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Ocasio-Cortez Is Also Sued For Blocking Twitter Users

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