The President’s Tweets: First Amendment Right or Failed Social Media Policy

I first blogged about Former President Trump’s tweets in 2018 (read here). In the post, I offered my expert opinion on whether or not these tweets should be taken seriously. The answer was “yes.” As an elected official, the president’s tweets are a valid form of communication.

However, some basic questions were missed. If the president is tweeting, does that mean he has freedom to write anything without editing, proofing, or monitoring? Is it allowable for the president to maintain a personal account?

Answering these questions gets tricky.

A solid social media policy could provide some clarity. It’s common for organizations to create social media policies to establish guidelines. Guidelines may include rules on posting acceptable content. Or what employees can post as professionals and sometimes even as personal individuals outside of work. Or if maintaining personal and professional accounts is acceptable.

It’s also common for organizations to establish posting procedures. For example, the communications department must vet all tweets before posting them.

Before writing this post I wondered, did the Executive Office of the President for former President Trump have a social media policy? I wasn’t able to locate one. And if they did, it’s hard to imagine it would have allowed the president so much freedom. As far as I understand, the president is neither an emperor nor a dictator. He’s an elected official.

However, while obtaining my Masters in Archival Studies, I was shocked to learn about the history of presidential records. Prior to the Presidential Records Act of 1978, presidential records belonged to the president. He removed them when he left office.

Maintaining personal and professional accounts

The second question is even trickier to answer. Clearly Donald Trump had his own Twitter account, with followers, before taking office. As president, he maintained his personal account and one for POTUS. (Read about All the President’s Tweets.)

However, as a highly elected official, it would have been almost impossible for Trump to separate himself as an individual from his role as president. When one holds such a high title and prominent role, little space exists for the personal individual. Therefore, in this instance, it would have made sense to put the personal account on hold until the term finished.

The answer seems easy and straightforward, but it’s not. Herein lies the complexity of using social media.

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