Sen. Scott blocks some from official social media

Sen. Ray Scott



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.


COMMENTS

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Senator Scott, a federal court ruling is in and of itself a pretty strong legal opinion. Here’s the ruling, in case you’d like to read it: https://cases.justia.com/federal/district courts/virginia/vaedce/1:2016cv00932/348006/132/0.pdf?ts=1501081939

Key quotes: “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 .... Indeed, the suppression of critical commentary regarding elected officials is the quintessential form of viewpoint discrimination against which the First Amendment guards….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.”

Claudette Konola blocks people from her Facebook page and calls herself a “Public Figure”. I don’t think she should be blocking people.

Loriann Parrott,
There is a huge difference between Claudette Konola and Ray Scott that you are missing.

Ray Scott is an elected official, receives a taxpayer-funded salary, taxpayer-funded office, phone and email account, uses his social media accounts under his status as an elected official, and created these forums himself for the purpose of soliciting input from constituents. Moreover, it is illegal under the First Amendment for elected officials to engage in viewpoint discrimination, which is what Ray Scott is doing.

For the record, I am only blocked from Scott’s Facebook page. I regularly send him info through Tweets. In fact, I tweeted the story about the court ruling to him some time ago, and suggested that he might want to unblock me. And Loriann—I have blocked fewer than 5 people from my public page—all of them for refusing to play by the rules, which are simple: No posts from the alt-right, no name calling. Other than that, people are welcome to post at my page—in fact I am sincerely trying to get people from the right and left to at least talk to each other in a civilized manner. And I am not covered by the court ruling because I am not an elected official. I’m just a retired lady with a lot of passion for truth and civilized conversations.

Yo Anne Landman:
The URL you provided results in a
“404 Not Found”
“The page that you have requested could not be found”
message.

Interested persons can read my response to this article on the Mesa County Patriots’ Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MesaCountyPatriots/posts/1215687151869161.
There isn’t really enough space here to give this important 1st Amendment issue the attention it deserves.
My first impression is that various “activist” judges have omitted the issue of when exercise of one person’s “free speech” rights becomes an invasion of another person’s free speech rights; omitted the issue of why Facebook and Twitter engineered a blocking capability in the first place, if social media are “public places” and person A has a 1st Amendment right to harass and disrupt the discussion on person B’s social media pages; and omitted the issue of when “comments” become disruptive, discourteous, repetitious, sophistic, harassing and time-wasting. This is just for first-glance starters. If the Supremes eventually weigh in, I predict they will alter some of the various C.C.App’s anti-common-sense policy findings.

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