STATEN ISLAND, NY (PM) — Viral YouTube sensation and Congressional candidate Joseph Saladino has filed a lawsuit against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for blocking him on the popular social media website Twitter.
Joseph Saladino, who goes by the nickname “Joey Salads” online, claims that Ocasio-Cortez violated his first amendment rights when she blocked him from her official Twitter account on May 9th, 2019. The lawsuit comes just hours after an appeals court ruling on Tuesday morning that ruled President Donald Trump “engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination” by blocking users from accessing his Twitter account because “he disagrees with their speech.”
The ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that “the First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise-open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.” This latest ruling prompted Saladino to file a formal complaint against Representative Ocasio-Cortez, citing that her blocking him from her Twitter account violates his first amendment rights.
Saladino posted pictures of his lawsuit Tuesday afternoon, with a caption referring to the recent appeals court ruling. “[If] Trump is not allowed to block people, will the standards apply equally?” Saladino asked.
“I’m suing AOC because we need to be able to have a strong and vigorous debate between the parties, otherwise our fragile system of ideas and representation breaks down,” said Saladino in a press statement. “[S]he is the voice of her generation of Democrat voters, and bigger than some of the Presidential candidates.”
In an email to Fox News on Tuesday, a spokesperson for Saladino claimed that Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to block Joseph Saladino was “unprovoked.” The YouTube star also claims that the New York representative blocked him soon after announcing his own Congressional candidacy in a nearby district.
Critics of the lawsuit have noted that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez blocked Saladino on her personal Twitter account “@AOC,” which currently has more than 4,600,000 followers, rather than on her official Congressional Twitter account with only 171,000 followers, “@RepAOC.” Thus, they believe that Ocasio-Cortez did not violate the first amendment since she did not block anyone from her official Congressional Twitter page.
Meanwhile, supporters of the lawsuit have countered these claims by noting that the appellate ruling on Tuesday applies to President Trump’s personal Twitter account, “@realDonaldTrump.” Although the White House also operates an official Twitter account, “@POTUS,” it is not used nearly as much as Trump’s personal account and that account was not the main focus in the circuit court ruling.
The “block” function on Twitter has become a hot topic in recent months, especially with the recent court rulings regarding the President’s use of such feature. When a user is “blocked” on Twitter, it completely prevents them from reading, liking, retweeting, and responding to tweets from the account that blocked them.
The feature is intended to allow users to protect themselves from unruly Twitter users who might be stalking or harassing them on the website. However, President Trump and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez have appeared to use the feature in recent months to block accounts that reply to their tweets with criticisms and opposing viewpoints, which would be a direct violation of the recent appellate court ruling. In recent months, several journalists and conservative commentators have also announced that they too were blocked by Ocasio-Cortez for criticizing her on Twitter. Some of those blocked online by the freshman representative include Ryan Saavedra, Liz Wheeler, Harry Cherry, Dov Hikind, and the official Twitter account for conservative-leaning news publication The Daily Caller.
Instead of blocking those criticizing her, which many free speech advocates online believe is a violation of the first amendment, Ocasio-Cortez has another option: she could instead “mute” users. This option allows the muted user to still view, like, retweet, and reply to tweets, but prevents the user from muting them from seeing their posts. This compromise was proposed to President Trump by Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald several months ago, as it still allows users to tweet their opinions freely, without the worry of a public official violating their right to free speech.
Although Twitter itself is not bound by the first amendment, since it is a private entity and not government-run, the new appellate ruling means elected officials who run accounts are expected to abide by the first amendment, since they are operating as a government entity on Twitter. Thus, Saladino and the others who are planning to sue Ocasio-Cortez for blocking them on Twitter, are hoping this argument holds up in court.