On March 14th 2017 Donald Trump’s administration demanded that Twitter reveal the identities of one of its users. Not because of a potential link to extremists, not because of a credible threat to the American people, not even because there was evidence linking them to a crime. No, the President of the United States wanted twitter to hand over the details of a user because they were critical of him. Thankfully, Twitter thwarted the administrations attempt and Trump was forced to back down and withdraw his demand.
The user in question, @ALT_USCIS, anonymously criticized the Trump administration and claimed to be run by federal employees at the United States Citizenship and immigration services. The original court summons demanded that Twitter hand over “all records regarding the twitter account @ALT_USCIS to include, user names, account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses, and IP (computer) addresses”. By the 13th of March 2017, a day before twitter had received the document. The government bizarrely justified it’s actions by citing a law relating to the import of merchandise.
Twitter then sued the government, arguing that summon was fundamentally unlawful as the demand for information did not fit with the law that the government is citing. They also raised the concern that handing over the information requested would lead to a “grave and chilling effect” on free speech and First amendment rights. A day after Twitter’s case went public the government has withdrawn the summons request.
— ALT Immigration (@ALT_uscis) April 7, 2017
@ALT-USCIS is part of a number of “alternative” twitter accounts set up in response to Trump’s gagging of official federal accounts. They are part of the #WeAreAltGov movement, a collection of Twitter accounts that are critical of Trumps administration and claim to be run by employees of the Federal Government.
This is another example of Trump’s sensitivity to criticism and if I can be frank for a moment? The fact that a President of one of the worlds largest democracies is so thin skinned that he is willing to violate the fundamental rights of free speech is utterly appalling to me and I am not even American. It is the sort of move that one would expect from a tin-pot dictator. Not the supposed leader of the free world.
Twitter was right to stand up for its users and we should all be thankful that it has done so. Whatever your political beliefs, whether you support Trump or not, the government should never be allowed to stifle its critics. That is how democracies slip into dictatorship.