The Supreme Court has ruled on a case on Monday related to former President Donald Trump’s use of his Twitter account. Specifically, the case dealt with whether or not he was allowed to block users who were repeatedly criticizing him. But Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion is the real headliner.
Twitter users had filed the case Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump in 2017, which became Knight First Amendment Institute v. Biden in 2021. The claimants argued that the former president had violated their First Amendment rights by blocking their user accounts. While Trump tweeted from his personal account, the Twitter users argued that he had used it in a presidential capacity by releasing official statements, thus making it a “public forum.” In 2018, a judge in New York had ruled that the president’s actions were unconstitutional.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the concurring opinion stating that dismissing the case was the right thing to do, and noted that Donald Trump is no longer in office.
More importantly, Justice Thomas shared his view that digital and social media platforms now wield dangerous amounts of concentrated political power that will have to be addressed by the nation’s highest court.
“Today’s digital platforms provide avenues for historically unprecedented amounts of speech, including speech by government actors,” Thomas wrote. “Also unprecedented, however, is the concentrated control of so much speech in the hands of a few private parties. We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms.”
“Applying old doctrines to new digital platforms is rarely straightforward,” Thomas added. “Respondents have a point, for example, that some aspects of Mr. Trump’s account resemble a constitutionally protected public forum. But it seems rather odd to say that something is a government forum when a private company has unrestricted authority to do away with it.”
Justice Thomas remarks clearly that he does not believe digital platforms have First Amendment rights. This is a warning shot to Big Tech companies like Twitter.
“This is not the first or only case to raise issues about digital platforms,” Thomas comments. “While this case involves a suit against a public official, the Court properly rejects today a separate petition alleging that digital platforms, not individuals on those platforms, violated public accommodations laws, the First Amendment, and antitrust laws.”
Thomas’s opinion hints that he views these Big Tech giants as having too much power for the public good. Now, the right legislation and lawsuits need to be filed to put an end to their abuse of power.