Most of my writing is about the Trump administration. In fact, my mandate from Pacific Standard is “Trump and the law.” On Twitter, the bulk of my recent follower growth and new relationships with others in the politico-legal sphere have come out of responding quickly when the president tweets and engaging the threads of conversation that flow from those tweets.
So when President Donald Trump blocked me in June, apparently for suggesting that Russia influenced the outcome of the 2016 election, he harmed me professionally. Even though I knew @realDonaldTrump was important to my career, it still took me at least a few days to recognize how being blocked by the president on Twitter would affect me as a public intellectual.
Twitter initially became a haven for me when I recognized it as a great equalizer in the media world. Washington DC, generally, and the world of writing and commentary, specifically, operate on networks and connections that many denizens inherit. Mine are hard won.
Not every tweet is a hit, but when I make a point pithily and it’s liked and retweeted by thousands of people, some of the people who agree with my point or like the way I make it follow me or reach out. And some of those people are editors, experts, and advocates who become employers, contributors, and collaborators.
Gone now is my ability to participate in the timeliest and most robust conversations around law, policy, and politics on Twitter—those around the president’s tweets. Taking part in these exchanges was an ideal way to stay current on not just facts, but new ideas. These threads make up the marketplace of ideas in which my peers and potential employers, colleagues, and audience are present and participating. I’ve been forced out and have no meaningful way to rejoin them.
I didn’t think being blocked on Twitter was a big deal at first. It’s just a button you can click, a way to mute an ex or tune out trolls’ attacks. But it turns out that when the person who blocks you is the president of the United States, it can matter quite a bit. Every day I’m blocked I lose opportunities to advance my views and engage others’—literally the reason a reader follows a writer’s work, the substance a publication pays a writer for—in these conversations. I can’t fire off a 140-word tweet, create a thread, or share pieces I write to drive discussion within these very conversations. That quick click I thought was so inconsequential is constraining my career in ways I have yet to fully appreciate.
Twitter also brought me to where I am today: Pursuing a lawsuit with others against President Trump for his decision to block us on Twitter. It was because I tweeted about being blocked that I eventually connected with the Knight First Amendment Institute and became involved in the legal effort.
When it comes to Twitter, I thought my fights would be confined to threads and direct messages. It never occurred to me that I’d end up in court. I can’t say I’m glad I have, but I am proud to stand up for the right to free speech, which is essential to not only to individual people—and entire professions—but democracy. Each day my appreciation grows for the magnitude of what I am part of. How I respond to being excluded from the president’s Twitter may be more important than anything I’ve ever said on Twitter.
Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza is a legal analyst, advocate, and author based in Washington DC.