Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) defended her decision to block certain Twitter users after the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University urged her not to block people based on their “viewpoints.”
The progressive lawmaker argued on Twitter on Thursday that among her some 5.2 million followers on the social media platform, she has fewer than 20 users blocked due to reported harassment. She added that none of the blocked users are her constituents.
“Harassment is not a viewpoint,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “Some accounts, like the Daily Caller, posted fake nude photos of me & abused my comments to spread it. No one is entitled to abuse.”
In January, the Caller, a right-wing news site, published an explicit photo of a woman who was not Ocasio-Cortez, along with a misleading headline that did not clearly state it was not the lawmaker in the photo. The publication later said it regretted the headline and changed it.
The Knight First Amendment Institute, which works to defend freedom of speech in the digital age, issued a letter to Ocasio-Cortez in hopes of “dissuading” her from blocking Twitter users due to their “views.” The institute argued that Ocasio-Cortez uses her personal account as “an extension” of her formal office.
Ocasio-Cortez’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In July, the institute represented former New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D) and GOP congressional candidate Joseph Saladino (a controversial YouTuber known as Joey Salads), who filed a lawsuit against Ocasio-Cortez, claiming the representative had blocked them on Twitter.
The lawsuit cited a July ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, which found that the First Amendment forbids President Donald Trump from blocking his critics from viewing his Twitter account. The decision upheld a May 2018 ruling.
“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 dialog because they expressed views with which the official disagrees,” Circuit Judge Barrington Parker wrote in the July ruling.
Ocasio-Cortez, who represents New York’s 14th Congressional District, addressed the institute’s letter in another tweet from her personal account on Thursday.
“People are free to speak whatever classist, racist, false, misogynistic, bigoted comments they’d like,” she wrote. “They do not have the right to force others to endure their harassment and abuse.”
The Knight First Amendment Institute acknowledged in its letter that Ocasio-Cortez “may wish to block users for reasons that are both reasonable and constitutionally legitimate ― for example, because their speech is threatening.”
The institute also noted the persistent threats and abuse that women of color often face on social media, and wrote that those attacks “can deter speech and political participation that are crucial to our democracy.”
“We would welcome the chance to work with you to develop a social media policy that both complies with the First Amendment and helps you address threats, abuse, and harassment,” the institute’s letter read.
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