Scott settles social media blocking case

RAY SCOTT

The American Civil Liberties Union has reached a settlement agreement with Sen. Ray Scott over his blocking of some people from his social media accounts.

The settlement, which will cost state taxpayers $25,000 in attorney fees, also called on the Grand Junction Republican to unblock constituents from his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Last year, Scott blocked at least three people from those accounts, saying he only does so if someone posts a profane or inappropriate comment.

But one of those three, Grand Junction resident Anne Landman, said the social media sites are substantially public forums and elected officials shouldn't block anyone.

The issue is something that's impacted elected officials across the nation regardless of political affiliation.

"The overwhelming majority of cases has made very clear that the official social media pages of public officials, like Senator Scott's, are public forums where individual's speech is constitutionally protected," said ACLU staff attorney Sara Neel. "Recognizing this, Senator Scott has agreed to unblock all users from his social media pages and will not block anyone else in the future based on viewpoint."

Scott, however, said he actually did that back in the spring, soon after it was announced that Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat, paid a $25,000 fine for doing something similar.

Like Scott's fine, that fine is paid from taxpayer money because, in both cases, the two were acting in their official capacities as elected officials. Additionally, both were represented by government-paid attorneys.

Scott said the ACLU was asking for a lot more — up to $60,000 — but did nothing more than file a short motion to the court asking for the money.

Regardless, he said the entire matter is a bit frustrating because the law still isn't clear on what an elected official can and cannot do when it comes to social media accounts. He said they are useful tools in interacting with the voters, but because some commenters become too vitriolic, it's hard to know when it is acceptable to block, or merely edit comments.

"We still don't have settled law," Scott said. "We didn't get into court with this thing, so we don't have a real judgment on what the courts are going to rule. It's a weird, fishy place to be."

He said the original complaint only asked Scott to unblock people. But after Garcia was fined, a new motion was filed against Scott asking for money.

"There's confusion on several levels," Scott said. "Your personal Facebook page, I can do whatever I want. But if you use it as an official government site where you are talking to people from a government standpoint, that's were the battle is. Everybody's trying to figure out what's the right thing to do, and how should we do it."

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