A joke about ice cream. A suggestion to spend more time with his youngest son. An animated GIF featuring Pope Francis giving a skeptical look.
These are just some of the reasons, as far as anyone can tell, that President Trump has blocked people on Twitter.
Amid threatened legal action questioning whether it is unconstitutional for the president of the United States to bar exchanges with certain constituents on his preferred platform of communication, a group of people has stepped into the spotlight: those who have been #BlockedByTrump.
For many, getting singled out on Twitter by the leader of the free world is so bizarre that, when it happens, there tends to be a sense of awe mixed with indignation and disbelief. For others, it has become a strange new badge of honor, with newly blocked users being welcomed to the “club” by previously blocked ones.
“HOLY SH-T HE ACTUALLY DID IT!” Jules Suzdaltsev, a freelance journalist based in San Francisco, tweeted May 31, accompanied by screen shots of Trump’s suddenly inaccessible (to him) personal Twitter account. “I told Trump to spend more time with his son AND HE BLOCKED ME!”
Suzdaltsev was caught off guard when what he considered a fairly harmless series of tweets finally spurred Trump to block him. Usually a critic of the president, Suzdaltsev said he had actually started out by affirming Trump’s opinion that “Kathy Griffin should be ashamed of herself” and agreeing that “her joke was tasteless and stupid.”
He then followed with some unsolicited advice for Trump to spend more time with his youngest son, Barron.
Also, and I mean this sincerely, you NEED to spend more time with Barron instead of golfing every single weekend!
— Jules Suzdaltsev (@jules_su) May 31, 2017
I mean Jesus, take him golfing WITH you! It seriously breaks my heart what you’re doing to Barron, he is the only Trump I like.
— Jules Suzdaltsev (@jules_su) May 31, 2017
And just like that, Trump’s Twitter feed was suddenly closed off to Suzdaltsev.
“I was elated,” he told The Washington Post. “Maybe initially bittersweet, but when I realized I could still reply, I was absolutely elated.”
Suzdaltsev certainly wasn’t trying to get himself blocked by the president, but he wasn’t holding back, either. He had been tweeting at Trump regularly since just before the inauguration, often with “over-the-top, aggressive” missives that challenged everything from Trump’s intelligence to his appearance. Often, Suzdaltsev couldn’t help himself.
“First of all, he’s incredibly easy to respond to,” Suzdaltsev said. “Other times, he’ll say things that are vividly untrue. It’s almost like there’s this compulsion to prove that ‘You’re not fooling anyone. I don’t care if you’re the president. This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say.’ ”
By then, Suzdaltsev had become one of a vocal group of verified Twitter users who relished in racing to be the first to comment anytime Trump tweeted. The overwhelming number of retweets and “likes” he got for each retort — if phrased and timed just right — had become entertaining, gratifying and, yes, a little addictive.
“It did amazing things for my engagement,” he said.
Eventually, it also got him blocked.
It’s difficult to say for certain how many people Trump has blocked because a user’s list of blocked accounts isn’t public. (This report relied on screen shots from those who said they had been blocked by Trump.)
But in late May, word spread that Trump had blocked the comedy writer Bess Kalb after she tweeted at @realDonaldTrump to say that his trip to the Middle East had been “embarrassing.”
— Bess Kalb (@bessbell) May 29, 2017
“I thought, oh, that’s quite unsettling because I never expected that that would happen, and I’d always been a little afraid of that,” Suzdaltsev said of Kalb getting blocked. “But I sort of thought, I’m not going to change [what I tweet at Trump], because that’s the definition of a chilling effect.”
For Rob Szczerba, a tech executive in Upstate New York who rarely tweeted about anything political before Trump, it was the post-inauguration spat over crowd size that sucked him into the Twitter game.
“You’re just thinking to yourself, why would you get all bent out of shape about that?” Szczerba told The Post. “That just seems kind of silly.”
Like Suzdaltsev, Szczerba got into the habit of trying to come up with rapid, humorous responses to Trump’s tweets. He set up his notifications to alert him whenever Trump posted to Twitter. And like others, his replies to the president were usually met with hundreds, if not thousands, of likes and retweets.
If you promise not to release any classified information on your trip, you’ll get an extra scoop of ice cream at dinner. #TrumpRussia
— Rob Szczerba (@RJSzczerba) May 19, 2017
“Usually they’re fairly blunt,” Szczerba said of the president’s tweets. “I never really tweeted anything threatening or use profanity in any way. I tried to use humor.”
Even that was not enough to prevent Trump from hitting the “block” button on him. On the night of June 1, the same day Trump announced that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, Szczerba fired off a criticism of the decision — in the form of a dad joke.
— Rob Szczerba (@RJSzczerba) June 2, 2017
When he checked Trump’s profile shortly afterward, he realized he had been blocked.
“I was almost laughing when I got blocked,” Szczerba said. “Like, seriously, that’s what you’re blocking me over?”
Szczerba said he doesn’t know whether Trump himself is doing the blocking or whether it’s someone on his staff. Either way, he thinks it’s counterproductive. For one, there are still ways, through third-party apps, to view and respond to a Twitter account that has blocked you.
“When you’re blocked, it shows that someone’s actually reading these things and somebody’s gotten under your skin,” Szczerba said. “As a politician … responding in this sort of manner doesn’t seem to be in your best interest.”
Other “last tweets to Trump” that reportedly triggered a presidential block run the gamut, from disses of Trump’s approval ratings to calls for impeachment.
UNBLOCK ME YOU COWARD!
— Tony Posnanski (@tonyposnanski) June 6, 2017
LOL….welcome to the #BlockedByTrump club. He blocked me TWO years ago because I called him a cartoon character.
— MacKenzie L. (@run_mac_run) May 29, 2017
— Aunt Crabby (@DearAuntCrabby) June 1, 2017
— Tara Dublin (@taradublinrocks) April 27, 2017
This was my last tweet to Trump before he BLOCKED me.
— Holly O’Reilly (@AynRandPaulRyan) May 29, 2017
“Did I make death threats against him? Did I use foul language or threaten his family?” Holly O’Reilly, a.k.a. @AynRandPaulRyan, wrote in a guest column for The Post, of the tweet that got her blocked. None of the above.
“I told him that the pope looked at him funny,” O’Reilly said.
At first, she “couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all” — but soon her laughter gave way to anger, she wrote:
It’s one thing if the president blocks me; I’m just one person, and I can certainly do something else with those five minutes of my day. But when he began systematically blocking dozens of people who simply didn’t agree with him, that’s when I started to worry that this is something more than just one person blocking another one. This is an elected official trying to silence an entire sector of the dissenting populace. This is what dictators and fascists do. This isn’t what we do here in America.
O’Reilly has since joined a group that is alleging that Trump’s blocking of her on Twitter violates her First Amendment rights. Trump is not the only elected official who has been blocking his or her constituents on Twitter, according to an investigation by ProPublica.
For many others, being blocked by Trump is a less serious matter, something to trumpet in Twitter bios and reminisce about with screen shots.
“It’s kind of viewed as a little bit of a badge of honor that you got blocked,” Szczerba said.
Twitter user Tony Posnanski is just one of a few who turned his notification that Trump had blocked him into his Twitter banner photo.
“Being blocked by Donald Trump,” Suzdaltsev mused in a recent tweet, “is the new ‘verified.’ ”