A conversation about lawmakers, social media and free speech

Saturday , August 12, 2017 - 5:00 AM

GREG HALLING, Standard-Examiner Staff

The American Civil Liberties Union warned Utah lawmakers this week to stop blocking people on social media because it violates their free speech rights, The Associated Press reported.

The moves comes after Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute sued President Donald Trump last month for blocking people on Twitter.

  • RELATED: “Politicians blocking people on social media ignites debate”

When elected officials use social media to discuss government business, that requires them to listen to everyone — regardless of their views, said Katie Fallow, the senior staff attorney for the Knight Institute.

“If it’s mainly used to speak to and hear from constituents, that’s a public forum and you can’t pick and choose who you hear from,” Fallow told Brady McCombs, an AP reporter.

Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Mia Love said through their spokesmen that they only block people for personal insults and obscenities.

“We are under no obligation to allow Senator Hatch’s Facebook page to be used as a platform for offensive content or misinformation,” said his spokesman, Matt Whitlock.

But Anna Thomas, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Utah, said Hatch and Love can’t shut out the people they represent.

“People turn to social media because they see their elected officials as being available there and they’re hungry for opportunities to express their opinions and share feedback,” Thomas said. “That includes people who disagree with public officials.”

We shared the story on Facebook and asked, “Do you think politicians should be able to block people on social media?”

Here’s how people answered. All quotes are verbatim:

Lynda PoVey: No. They have no right. When they are elected it is their job to listen whether they want to or not. They choose not to have open meetings with their constituents the only way to contact them is social media. Since this regime pushes social media then deal with it. If you can't take the heat quit feeding at the tax payers trough.

Leslie Parkinson Simpson: You can email all your representatives. Call, or write letters. You can always set up an appointment too. They are not required to have a social page. So if they do they should have control of it. Just like you have control of yours.

Janis Walton: Leslie Parkinson Simpson Good luck with the call, the same answer machine has been on there for ages and you will NEVER get a call back. He does not read his mail. Honestly... he is out of touch with reality and has no right to be in a public office if he cannot take the heat of facebook and the people of Utah. PERIOD.

Jeremy K. Heath: Yes. I do believe they should be allowed to block on social media. If social media was the only means of interacting with our elected officials than absolutely not but due to the fact that we have a large variety of options to choose from blocking us in one place because of the public forum type of that place I feel that it should be allowed.

Sue Delaney: No I do not think they have the right to block people from official social media pages, yes, remove an obscene comment, but block no...personal page , sure block away, but the minute they use their personal page for anything related to politics it becomes a PUBLIC forum, they are public officials, we still have the right to free speech. The minute they started using social media to spread their agenda, campaign, respond to public news ,they do not have the right to block the public from responding.

James McIntyre: Lol I got blocked by Herbert called him out when he deemed pornography being a public health crisis meanwhile we have a huge opioid problem and our air is bad. Also me telling him that his religiouslature and himself need to keep their religious agendas out of laws and separate church and state.

David Nelson: It's too bad you don't understand the 1st amendment or the separation clause there in. You can still write him or email him or call him. So while it's too bad you have your panties in a knot it sounds like you tied it.

Mark Vaughn: If it is a personal page then yes. There is no law that says a politician has to have a social media page anywhere. Therefore it is a choice to put themselves out there. If they want to block someone then it is just fine that they do, maybe they should actually block everyone and force people to actually write letters or use the Phone to actually call their representatives instead of being keyboard warriors.

Mike Sargent: No. Politicians are accountable to their constituents and should listen and learn from their feedback. Blocking your constituents is childish and unprofessional.

KickAsh Artistry: If there are not violations of social media policies, then no. Having a different opinion is not grounds for being blocked.

David Nelson: But it is. Not to mention you can still write them, email, them, and call them.

Elisabeth Luntz: Censoring dissent is manufacturing consent. Public forum means just that. Social media is a real wake up call to representatives that have distorted real public opinion for centuries. Unless it's vulgar or profane, there's no excuse for blocking.

Rosemary Hoffman: They hide from their constituents. This is just another way they do that.

Nora Bangerter: No, because politicians work for us, and as constituents we deserve too be heard.

Kristen Muse: Facebook sensors people, so why shouldn't people be able to?

Kevin W Campbell: Hell no it's our constitutional right to express out thoughts and feeling's.

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