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Victory in the Second Circuit on Trump Twitter lawsuit

trumptwitterbird

Clown imitates icon.

“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. … Once the President has chosen a platform and opened up its interactive space to millions of users and participants, he may not selectively exclude those whose views he disagrees with.”

— Barrington D. Parker, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decided in our favor in Knight Institute v. Trump, upholding the decision of from the U.S. District Court that President Trump violating the First Amendment by blocking me and six other plaintiffs on Twitter. The decision was unanimous among the three judges (two appointed by Republicans, one Democrat), who heard oral arguments in March (available in video here).

Here is some of the coverage.

More to come.

I was interviewed for a (paywalled) Times Higher Education article, “US university professor helps beat Trump on Twitter blocking,” saying:

“I often don’t read his tweets before replying. The point is not to have a dialogue with him, but to engage with the millions of people who read his tweets. … When I have a popular reply it can be viewed by 100,000 people or more, which, while small in the grand scheme, is very satisfying as an individual act of resistance.”

The article concludes:

But the professor acknowledged that some of his friends regard his approach as a waste of time, “playing into Trump’s hands, sinking to his level, fueling the outrage industry without advancing the cause of improving democracy through civil discourse. And honestly, they may be right,” he said. “We each have to respond in our own way to what, for many, is a deeply distressing turn of events.”

Much more important than my tweets is the effect of the case on the legal protections for democracy. I share the optimistic take by Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight Institute and the lawyer who delivered the oral argument in the Second Circuit:

“Public officials’ social media accounts are now among the most significant forums for discussion of government policy. This decision will ensure that people aren’t excluded from these forums simply because of their viewpoints, and that public officials aren’t insulated from their constituents’ criticism. The decision will help ensure the integrity and vitality of digital spaces that are increasingly important to our democracy.”

(The whole team at the Knight Institute has been amazing and I’m deeply grateful.)

I also gave this interview to ABC News streaming show Briefing Room, and offered this summary off the cuff:

This is exactly what we were hoping for. Trump and the Department of Justice that’s representing him had argued that when Trump tweets, they acknowledge, that’s official business, but when he blocked people they said that was his personal preference and his personal behavior. And it’s really new territory because increasingly government official are communicating with the public on these private platforms, and we have to do some work to bring the First Amendment to bear in these environments. The principle here is that if the government, or a government official, establishes what’s called a public forum, then they can’t exclude people from that forum on the basis of their views. So Trump can have a private party, he can have a campaign rally, he doesn’t have to let every person in the world walk into the White House – but if he puts up a sign that says, “Public Debate Happening Here,” then he can’t say, “Oh, by the way, only Republicans can come.” And that’s what the court found he’s doing essentially with his Twitter feed when he blocks people, and creates this false impression that, you know, he has the biggest crowds and everybody loves him.

Here’s the clip:

The next step is to see whether Trump appeals, in which case he can either ask for a review by the full panel of the Second Circuit, or go up to the Supreme Court. We’re supposed to hear within 90 days.

The news office at Columbia, host of the Knight First Amendment Institute, which represents us, produced this short video on the decision:

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Breaking: 2018 is almost over (year-end report)

Thank you to everyone who read and responded this year.

These are some of the good things that happened in 2018 that may be of interest to blog readers. I was on sabbatical. A new edition of my textbook, a book of essays, and some papers came out. President Trump was compelled by a Federal court to unblock me on Twitter. The excellent Joanna Pepin finished her PhD, and other students made great progress. I was elected to ASA’s Committee on Publications.

On the blog, productivity was good this year, with visits up 14% to 330,000, on traffic to 49 new posts. Blogging lives. In the longer-format genre, I posted a number of working papers and preprints, and two had stand-out performances: One on divorce trends and one a review of Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West (3100 downloads between them).

In the shorter-format genre, Twitter impressions were down 10% this year, to 23 million. After a surge in June following the President unblocking me, my impressions declined over the remainder of the year. Maybe the Twitter algorithm isn’t serving my tweets to as many people, or my tweets aren’t as good, or maybe I spent less time on Twitter.

On the blog, these were the top ten posts written in 2018:

1. Theology majors marry each other a lot, but business majors don’t (and other tales of BAs and marriage). Some data and a a suggestion for further research using college major and marital events data in the American Community Survey.

2. Mark Regnerus to be promoted to full professor at UT Austin. The University of Texas central administration overrode negative recommendations from both the Department of Sociology faculty and the College of Liberal Arts, to commit millions of dollars to Regnerus over the rest of his career. Bad decision.

3. Visiting Israel, with demography (this is not sustainable edition). Little-known fact about Israel: it’s population growth is unsustainable, in addition to everything else. I visited, got data, and took pictures.

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Mahane Yehudah Shuk, Jerusalem, on Friday afternoon (photo pnc: https://flic.kr/p/23AxGdJ)

4. Campus sexual harassment coverage, UMD circa 2003. Revisiting an old story about a sexual harassment charge against David Segal, one of my sociology department colleagues. I’d like to think things would be reported differently now.

5. Michael Kimmel’s American Sociological Association Award. In which I urged the American Sociological Association not to give the prominent sociologist its award for feminism after he was credibly accused of sexual misconduct. (They didn’t follow my advice.)

6. Trump Twitter suit argued in federal court. With the Knight First Amendment Institute and six other plaintiffs, I sued President Trump for blocking me on Twitter. After oral arguments in New York, I got to speak to reporters literally on the courthouse steps. (We won the case, he unblocked us, and the case is now under appeal.)

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Photo by Scott Matthews.

7. Notes for a review of “Cheap Sex,” by Mark Regnerus. A terrible book by an objectionable sociologist. The long version of my review.

8. Fertility trends explained, 2017 edition. Putting a marked US fertility decline in context, with figures and code. Conclusions: the economy is probably about to tank, and the U.S. fertility rate is still relatively high for our income level, especially for racial-ethnic minorities. I hope you listened to me and sold your stock back in May.

9. Breaking: In 2017 names, Donald, Alexa, and Mary plummet; Malia booms. Taking the collective cultural temperature with name trends.

10. Demographic facts your students should know cold in 2018. The annual appeal to teach basic demographic facts. I love the attention this gets.

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Actually unblocked by Trump, as DOJ appeals ruling

We won our lawsuit on May 23, with a federal judge ruling that Trump blocking me and seven others violates the First Amendment. Now, as of June 4, I am actually unblocked by the president’s @realdonaldtrump account, as are the other plaintiffs. At the same time, the Department of Justice filed a notice of their intent to appeal the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

winningtweet

Meanwhile, an unknown number of other people remain blocked by the president. The Knight First Amendment Institute, which is representing us, has asked other people who are blocked to contact them at: info@knightcolumbia.org. I would love this case to end up extending to others blocked by Trump, and other public officials.

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We won our First Amendment lawsuit against President Trump

unblocked

Federal judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled yesterday that the president is violating our First Amendment rights when he blocked me and six other plaintiffs for disagreeing with him on Twitter. The details and decision are available here. Congratulations and deep appreciation to the legal team at the Knight First Amendment Institute, especially Katie Fallow, Jameel Jaffer, Alex Abdo, and Carrie DeCell (sorry for those I’m missing).

I described my participation in the suit and my tweets last year here, and the oral arguments in March here.

Judge Buchwald’s introduction to the decision is great:

This case requires us to consider whether a public official may, consistent with the First Amendment, “block” a person from his Twitter account in response to the political views that person has expressed, and whether the analysis differs because that public official is the President of the United States. The answer to both questions is no.

She went on to issue declaratory relief, meaning she told the president he’s breaking the law, rather than injunctive relief (an order to act), writing:

It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is,” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 177 (1803), and we have held that the President’s blocking of the individual plaintiffs is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Because no government official is above the law and because all government officials are presumed to follow the law once the judiciary has said what the law is, we must assume that the President and [social media director Dan] Scavino will remedy the blocking we have held to be unconstitutional.

That remains to be seen, of course (I’m still blocked at this writing).

Here are a couple of snippets of analysis.

From Wired:

“In an age when we’re seeing so many norms broken by government regarding free speech, this is an important and right decision,” says [Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland]. “It sends a message that we’re not going to destroy free speech norms.”

[David Greene, a senior staff attorney and civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation] says he hopes the ruling warns other elected officials who are blocking constituents on social media to stop. “We routinely get a ton of people complaining to us about similar practices,” he says. “I hope they take it as a message that you have to stop doing this.”

From the Mercury News:

“The First Amendment prohibits government officials from suppressing speech on the basis of viewpoint,” said Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney at the institute, in a statement Wednesday. “The court’s application of that principle here should guide all of the public officials who are communicating with their constituents through social media.”

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of Berkeley Law at UC Berkeley, agrees.

“The judge followed clear law: A government official cannot give selective access of this sort,” Chereminsky said.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Knight staff attorney Carrie DeCell said the organization was pleased with the decision, but expects the White House to appeal. “Twitter is a new communications platform, but First Amendment principles are foundations,” DeCell said. “Public discourse is increasingly taking place online.”

DeCell said the case could have implications for all public officials using social media — not just Trump’s account. “The reasoning in the court decisions, we think, should inform public officials’ activities on our social media pages throughout the country,” she said.

My co-plaintiffs have also written on the decision. See Rebecca Pilar Buckwalter Poza in Daily Kos:

Public officials are relying on social media more and more to communicate to constituents. As that shift accelerates, it’s imperative that courts recognize that the First Amendment protects against viewpoint discrimination in digital public forums like the @realdonaldtrump account just as it does in more traditional town halls. An official’s Twitter account is often the central forum for direct political debate with and among constituents, a tenet of democracy.

and Holly Figueroa O’Reilly in the Guardian:

Twitter is as public a forum as a town hall meeting. By blocking people who disagree with him, he’s not only blocking our right to petition our government and access important information, but he distorts that public forum by purging critical voices. It’s like a senator throwing someone out of a town hall because they held up a “disagree” sign.

The New York Times also did a piece on other people Trump blocked (the public doesn’t know how many such people there are), one of whom called the decision “incredibly vindicating.”

I agree. The decision is a breath of democracy fresh air.

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How I engaged my way to excellent research success and you can too

kid on string phone in front of computer screen

Kid photo CC from MB Photography; collage by pnc.

Too often sociologists think of social media, or online communications generally, primarily as a way of broadcasting their ideas and building their audience, instead of as a way of deepening their engagement with different people and perspectives. You see this when academics start a twitter account right when their book is coming out. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s very limited. A crucial part of being a public scholar, public intellectual, or a public sociologist, etc., is reading, listening, and learning through engagement, and digital communication can enhance the metabolism of that process. Especially important is the chance to learn from people you don’t normally interact with. For all the complaints about social media bubbles, some true, social media also offers huge efficiencies for meeting and learning from new people.

As I’m writing an essay about this, I thought of my work on divorce as an example. So here’s that thread, condensed.

A divorce story

In 2008 I was teaching an undergraduate Family Sociology course at the University of North Carolina, and included a section on divorce based on other people’s research. I was also developing a proposal for my own textbook, which at the time framed family structures and events, including divorce, as consequences and causes of inequality. I was reading research about divorce along with many other family issues that were outside of my formal training and experience (the closest I had come to a family demography or family sociology course was a seminar on Gender, Work & Family in grad school).

Then in 2009, I wrote a post on my pretty new blog criticizing something bad the Brad Wilcox had written about divorce. I was trying to be newsy and current, and he was claiming that the recession was lowering divorce rates because hard times pulled people together. We didn’t yet know what would happen in the recession. (In the comments, Louise Roth suggested it would take time for divorces “caused” by the recession to show up, which turned out to be true.)

I kept on that path for a while, criticizing Wilcox again for similar work in 2011. By then — prompted by the combination of my reading, the blog debates, and the news coverage around families and the recession — I was working on a paper on divorce using the American Community Survey. I presented it at a demography meeting in the summer of 2011, then revised and presented it at the Population Association of America the following spring. I blogged about this a couple more times as I worked on it, using data on state variation, and Google searches, each time getting feedback from readers.

A version of the paper was rejected by Demography in the summer of 2011 (which generated useful reviews). Although now discredited as not peer-review-publishable (which no one knew), my commentary on divorce and the recession was nevertheless featured in an NPR story by Shankar Vedantam. Further inspired, I sent a new version of the paper (with new data) to Demographic Research, which also rejected it. I presented on the work a couple of times in 2012, getting feedback each time. By August 2012, with the paper still not “published,” I was quoted describing my “divorce/recession lull-rebound hypothesis” in New York magazine.

The news media pieces were not simply my work appearing in the news, in a one-directional manner, or me commenting on other people’s research, but rather me bringing data and informed commentary to stories the reporters were already working on. Their work influenced my work. And all along that news coverage was generating on- and offline conversations, as I found and shared work by other people working on these topics (like the National Center for Marriage and Family Research, and the Pew Research Center). Looking back over my tweets about divorce, I see that I covered divorce and religion, disabilities, economics, and race/ethnic inequality, and also critiqued media coverage. (Everything also got discussed on Facebook, in a smaller semi-private circle.)

By 2014 I finally got the paper — now with even newer data — published in a paywalled peer-reviewed journal, in Population Research and Policy Review. This involved writing the dreaded phrase, “Thank you very much for the opportunity to revise this paper again.” (Submitted October 2012, revision submitted August 2013, second revision submitted January 2014, final revision April 2014.) The paper, eventually titled, “Recession and Divorce in the United States, 2008-2011,” did improve over this time as new data provided better leverage on the question, and the reviewers actually made some good suggestions.

Also in 2014 the descriptive analysis was published in my textbook. The results were reported here and there, and expanded into the general area of family-recession studies, including this piece in the Conversation. I also developed a method of projecting lifetime divorce odds (basically 50%), for which I shared the data and code, which was reported on here. Along the way I also did some work on job characteristics and divorce (data and code, working paper). When I posted technical notes, I got interesting responses from people like economist Marina Adshade, whom I’ve never met.

So that’s an engagement story that includes teaching, the blogosphere and social media, news media, peer-reviewed publishing, conference presentations and colloquium talks. I did research, but also argued about politics and inequality, and taught and learned demography. It’s not a story of how I used social media, or the news media, to get the word out about my research, although that happened, too. The work product, not just the “publications,” were all public to varying degrees, and the discussions included all manner of students, sociologists, reporters, and interested blog or Twitter readers, most of whom I didn’t know or wouldn’t have met any other way.

So I can’t draw a line dividing the “engagement” and the “research,” because they weren’t separate processes.

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Trump Twitter suit argued in federal court

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My showing how I’m blocked by Trump on Twitter. Photo by Miesha Miller.

With updates.

Yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, lawyers from the Knight First Amendment Institute and the Department of Justice argued the lawsuit against President Trump and his staff for blocking us on Twitter, in which I’m a plaintiff.

After the two-hour hearing, just like in Law and Order, the news media met us with cameras and microphones as we came down the stairs of the courthouse, and I realized I hadn’t prepared what I would say. The first questions focused on a suggestion by the judge that Trump should just mute his critics on Trump instead of blocking us. Was this the solution? I hadn’t had time to consider it carefully, and we haven’t received any kind of settlement offer. So I said this:

Honestly I don’t know if muting is really the solution. But if all they really care about, which they say, is that he just doesn’t want to hear from us, then he would mute, but obviously he wants to suppress our speech. Obviously he doesn’t want us to be participating in the forum. He wants to look out at the world on Twitter, and see that everybody agrees with him and everybody thinks he’s great – and the fact is that’s not true – and that’s why he blocks us. He literally blocks us so that we won’t be seen to be expressing our views against him, and I think that’s outrageous and I’m glad that it’s apparently illegal.

Here are a few media links.

Columbia Journalism Review: In downtown New York, a First Amendment fight over Trump’s tweets

“I never thought he would block me. I tweeted at him all the time,” Cohen told CJR outside court. He’d just watched attorneys from the Knight First Amendment Institute tell a federal judge that in blocking Cohen because he didn’t like his tweet, the president had engaged in unconstitutional discrimination based on viewpoint. The Knight Institute, which is based at Columbia University, is representing Cohen and six other plaintiffs—a surgeon, a comic, a musician-activist, two writers, and a police officer—in a bid to qualify Trump’s Twitter as a public forum; part of a broader push to protect the First Amendment from a president who clearly does not respect it.

New York TimesJudge Floats Idea to Settle @realDonaldTrump Twitter Blocking Case

A federal judge in Manhattan had plenty of questions for lawyers representing a group of Twitter users who sued President Trump in July after he blocked them on the social media service. And she had even more for the government.

The seven users, who had been blocked by the @realDonaldTrump account after criticizing the president, were joined in the lawsuit by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Their lawyers claimed that Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed is an official government account and that blocking users from following it was a violation of their First Amendment rights.

Lawyers from the Department of Justice insisted that the Twitter feed was not, in fact, a public forum. Furthermore, they argued, no one had been meaningfully excluded from it.

Courthouse News, with the courthouse steps statements:

New York City Fox 5 news, with some followup interviews:

Agence France Press, published by Daily MailTwitter-blocked by Trump? Judge hears ‘free-speech’ case

Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, said he was summarily blocked in June 2017 after he reacted to a Trump tweet by replying with a photo of the president superimposed with the words “Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian”.

“At first I was kind of proud, like ‘oh he cares about me,'” Cohen said.

“But then very quickly I realized that a lot fewer people were seeing my tweets and my political efficacy, my ability to speak to my fellow citizens, was impaired by that. And I think that’s not the way our government should act.”

New York: The Newest Frontier in Jurisprudence is Trump’s Twitter Feed

What’s private catharsis for the rest of us can be rightly seen as government retaliation when it’s a public official who goes on a blocking spree.

And a photo by Scott Matthews:

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Photo by Scott Matthews.

These are just a few clips, mostly my scrap-booking for the day. I’ll write more later. Read all the case documents and statements, including those of the other plaintiffs, from the amazing Knight First Amendment Institute here.

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Family Inequality year-end review

It’s been another year online. Here’s my report. Feel the excitement, because it’s 2017.

This year I only wrote 54 Family Inequality blog posts, down from 77 last year; the 2010-2016 average was 130 per year. On the plus side, despite a 30% decline in posts, I only had a 7% decline in visits to the blog. Thanks!

On the third hand, while the blog had a little less than 300,000 visits this year (down from a peak of 428,000 in 2015), my tweets had more than 25 million views in 2017, according to Twitter analytics. Yikes. The peak in Twitter hits was May, with 4.8 million views. President Trump blocked me on Twitter on June 6, and I haven’t hit more than 2 million views in a month since. Who among us a year ago could have predicted our current relationship to the president of the United States (and his truth-and-soul crushing army of minions)? Our lawsuit against the president and his staff proceeds; the latest news is posted here.

2017 twitter impressions

The big blog news for the year is actually offline, the publication of my new book, Enduring Bonds: Inequality, Marriage, Parenting, and Everything Else That Makes Families Great and Terrible. I selected the best of the 900 blog posts on here, then revised them, updated them, and combined and organized them. The result is eight chapters of surprisingly (to me) fresh essays. I’m super happy with it, and hope you (and maybe your students) are, too. Order an exam copy or buy it from University of California Press or Amazon.

So here are the top 10 blog posts written this year:

1. Prince Charles and Princess Diana height situation explained. I’ve been covering this issue since 2010, because someone has to. It finally got the attention it deserves with this, my most blockbuster tweet ever, so I wrote a post putting it all together. Yes, they really were the same height.

sameheight

2. Demographic facts your students should know cold. This one led to lots of good discussion about teaching and learning demography in relation to other subjects, fake news, and so on.

3. More bad reporting on texting and driving, and new data. For years the New York Times has been publishing hysterical pieces about texting and driving, apparently in the service of selling Matt Richtel’s book. When David Leonhardt jumped with more nonsense in I updated my series. (Also, don’t text and drive.)

4. Sexual harassment: Et tu, Sociology? My colleague Liana Sayer and I made an offer. If you have first-hand knowledge of sexual harassment in sociology, tell us about it. We’ll collect information and report on it. Some people have contacted us. I hope more will. We’ll report back as we can.

5. Kids these days really know how to throw off a narrative on gender and families. What’s going on with young men’s gender views? Trying to tell the story as new data comes out (with code).

6. How I choose sides like it’s 1934. If I’m wrong — a false-positive read on the catastrophicness of the situation — that’s a better mistake to make than the false-negative mistake of not taking Trumpism and all this seriously enough until it’s too late.

7. Teaching Black family history in sociology, student resistance edition. A teachable moment about a teaching moment, about what happened to Black families during slavery, and how that relates to the present.

black children married parents 1880-2015

8. Race/ethnicity and slacking at work. Does new research show Black workers slack off more, and is working harder for the man really a sign of good character? Modern economics and a history lesson from Robin D. G. Kelley.

9. Marriage update: less divorce, and less sex. Married Americans are having less sex, and divorcing less. Go figure!

10. On artificially intelligent gaydar. My problems with that paper demonstrating a method of identifying sexual orientation from people’s profile pictures.

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