Long gone are the days where you had only two options to reach your congressman: mail or phone. Today, with advances in technology, there are several ways to reach out to those who represent us — whether that’s email, Twitter, SnapChat, or Facebook. With the influx of avenues to communicate, some are becoming weary about government representatives using the feature to block others on social media.
On July 7th, Republican Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona posted on his Facebook page about just that — his right to block people on social media.
“So you’re upset I blocked you on Facebook. Here’s why I don’t care, a three-part series,” Rep. Gosar penned.
Rep. Gosar explained that the shooting of Rep. Scalise last month was part of the reasoning behind his post. Apparently, many of the comments he or his staff delete from the page are nods to political violence. He discussed the issue of free speech under the 1st Amendment, which has been a point of criticism for many politicians on Facebook and Twitter. Congressman Gosar makes a few key points in his post.
Facebook is a private organization, not a government-run platform, so the 1st Amendment doesn’t apply. He is not infringing on free speech or the right to petition the government when he deletes a nasty comment.
“Commenting on my Facebook is a privilege, not a right,” he wrote in part. “Because, quite frankly, we don’t care if a Facebook ‘block’ offends you.”
His office is available. Constituents can always call and email his office with complaints. In fact, reaching out to his office is more effective.
He can do what he wants on his Facebook page. Even if it is his official page as a congressman, he can post what he likes and delete what he doesn’t. He is not at his constituents’ beck and call; it is not his job to appease people on social media, it is his job to legislate and represent his district.
In fact, the “About Me” section on his profile has a very clear disclaimer:
“Comments posted by users do not necessarily reflect the views of Congressman Gosar or his Congressional office. We reserve the right to hide or delete user comments that include profanity, name-calling, threats, personal attacks, known factual inaccuracies or other inappropriate comments or material at our discretion.
“Additionally, we reserve the right to ban anyone who repeatedly “spams” this page with off-topic links, videos or comments unrelated to the topic under which they are posting.
“We reserve the right to block any user who violates this or any other policies governing Facebook.
“Users are banned who do not promote healthy, civil dialogue on this page but all are welcome to contact Congressman Gosar using other methods. These methods include utilizing the “contact me” link on www.house.gov/gosar, calling into one of our offices or voicing your concerns via fax or mail.”
The congressman, clearly irritated by internet trolls, made a point to tell his constituents that the door is always open through official means.
“If you think a block on Facebook is infringing upon your constitutional right to petition the government, you are sorely mistaken. You want to petition the government? Terrific. Call my office and file a complaint. Write me a letter spelling out your grievances. My staff does a terrific job of addressing these issues and briefing me on your messages. If you really desire to get in touch with me, quit spewing hateful comments on photos of me with constituents and loved ones. Call my office and let’s get something done.”
It’s rare that we see a politician make such a definitive statement against public opinion, but Congressman Gosar is right. He has a right to delete nasty comments and constituents can take the steps to contact his office in a more appropriate way. If they want to use social media to contact a government official, they should speak in a way that won’t get their comment deleted or account blocked. Congressmen are people too, so it’s time they’re spoken to with some human decency. Congressman Gosar, among others, just wants a civil discussion on his Facebook page, and he should be able to have that.