Avoiding Criticism Through Social Media

Key Points:

  • Congressman Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) blocks constituents that are critical on social media.
  • One constituent campaigns to prevent him from blocking other users on Facebook after she was blocked.
  • Blocking for reasons that do not include “threats” can be considered a first amendment violation.

In an article by Vice, Representative Paul Gosar blocks individuals on Facebook that leave critical comments about his work. He has often referred to those who disagree with him as “hateful idiots”, and he suggests that because it is his Facebook, he has the right to block anyone he chooses. One resident, J’aime Morgaine, has taken action by publicly exposing his actions through campaigns.

Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 9.54.44 AM.png
Congressman Paul Gosar, Courtesy of gosar.house.gov

Earlier this year, a Virginia federal judge ruled public officials blocking people on their pages is a violation of the First Amendment.

While the Facebook page is technically owned by Gosar, it is still considered to be a public forum.

Types of Forums:

  • Public Forum: public parks, streets, sidewalks, the internet*
  • Limited Public Forum: public schools, any state space that may have limited access
  • Non-Public Forum: government-owned buildings, private universities

*Any speech that is restricted in a public sphere must be content-neutral (not related to the viewpoints expressed) in order to be constitutionallypermissible. 

Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA references the internet as a public forum:

“Social media accounts are a modern kind of public forum, from which government officials are not free to exclude people based on disagreement with their views.”

What Does This Mean for Journalists?

The role of the journalist is to act like a watchdog. In the realm of social media, this can be tricky as platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can have an overload of information. There are things that journalists can do to manage this and maintain oversight over public officials:

  • Setting notifications for updates from certain accounts
  • Creating lists to organize accounts into groups for easy management
  • Monitoring who follows each other
  • Taking a look at the comments on posts

Monitoring these factors on social media can bring to light issues such as Gosar’s Facebook page. Often situations like these can skim by, and most of Gosar’s constituents could be unaware of his actions.

Featured photo courtesy of Vice News.

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