Sen. Scott blocks some from official social media
Constituents blocked from participating in state Sen. Ray Scott’s social media pages believe their access should be restored after a recent court ruling declared such exclusion to be a violation of the First Amendment.
The ruling, issued last month in U.S. District Court for the eastern district of Virginia, declared that the chairwoman of the Loudoun County governing board erred when she banned a constituent from her official Facebook page for roughly 12 hours, violating his rights to free speech. The comments the constituent made had been critical of the board and suggested officials acted unethically.
“By prohibiting Plaintiff from participating in her online forum because she took offense at his claim that her colleagues in the County government had acted unethically, Defendant committed a cardinal sin under the First Amendment,” the ruling said.
In light of the decision, some constituents of the Grand Junction Republican are now demanding access to Scott’s social media after being blocked.
The Daily Sentinel was able to confirm four constituents had been limited from either viewing or posting on Scott’s official Twitter and Facebook account pages.
Martin Wiesiolek realized he was blocked from posting on Scott’s Facebook wall after he attempted to comment on the senator’s proposal to tax bicycles. He provided a copy of an email he wrote to Scott on July 20 asking why he was blocked from participating in the public forum. Wiesiolek said he suspects the blocking had something to do with a derogatory comment he made about Scott months ago.
Wiesiolek, who came to the U.S. in 1986 as a political refugee from Poland, is a veteran and served in the U.S. Army for eight years, including service during the Gulf War. He’s a citizen and enjoys participating in the political process, not only by voting but also taking part by giving feedback to elected officials.
He recalled his first online interaction with Scott in February, which involved the senator’s claims that The Daily Sentinel was “fake news” after a critical editorial was published. Wiesiolek responded to an article Scott posted about the ordeal, questioning Scott’s characterization of the newspaper’s political leanings and said “It is a good but a totally conservative paper. It always has been. Sen. Scott is a disgrace to Colorado.”
Scott replied, “Your (sic) a foolish democrat. Go cry somewhere else.”
Wiesiolek provided a screenshot of the posts and replies, which are no longer on Scott’s Facebook page.
Wiesiolek said he realized he was blocked from posting on Scott’s Facebook wall when he tried to express his disappointment again after Scott proposed taxing bicycles. He said he thinks it’s wrong for public officials who use their social media in official capacities to discriminate against opinions they find unpalatable.
“If this is the only forum for the public that the politician is using to solicit his constituents’ input, then he shouldn’t have the right to block anyone,” Wiesiolek said.
Grand Junction residents Anne Landman and Claudette Konola and Clifton resident Heidi Hess have also been blocked in some capacity from participating in or viewing Scott’s official Twitter or Facebook pages.
Hess was surprised to see she had been blocked on Twitter and isn’t sure when it happened, though she noticed it first about four months ago. She’s the Western Slope organizer for One Colorado, an advocacy organization focused on equality for LGBTQ issues.
She’s particularly perplexed because she said she’s “friends” with Scott’s personal Facebook profile.
She said she’s found Scott to be a responsive legislator and that she’s met with him for coffee before and exchanged pleasant conversation. “Our politics are different, which is fine,” she said, and noted she never felt like their interactions were confrontational, which is why she’s confused about the blocking.
Landman said both her personal and business Twitter accounts have been blocked from Scott’s Twitter. Konola said she cannot post comments to Scott’s Facebook page but can still tweet comments to him.
Landman said she’s considering submitting an ethics complaint against Scott and is asking anyone who has been blocked from participating in or viewing his social media to join her.
The ruling in Brian C. Davison vs. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors noted that social media, particularly Facebook, has become a “vital platform for speech of all kinds” and referred to social media as perhaps the most important modern forum for exchanging views.
Disagreeing with comments or finding them rude or idiotic isn’t a reason to prohibit free speech, the court said.
“If the Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence makes anything clear, it is that speech may not be disfavored by the government simply because it offends,” the ruling said.
Scott did not return phone calls on Friday and Saturday, but responded via email that he was unaware of the ruling and would withhold comment until getting a legal opinion.