ACLU concerned about politicians blocking people on social media

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Salt Lake City, Utah- (ABC4 Utah) – The ACLU of Utah is sending out a warning to members of Utah’s Congressional Delegation: Don’t block constituents on social media.

The ACLU says it can be a violation of free speech. They say they have received credible complaints, and that’s why they are taking action.

“If elected officials are getting in touch with their constituents, soliciting input from the public, talking about their official government work, then that makes their Facebook page or Twitter account an open forum,” said Anna Thomas, Strategic Communications Manager.

Thomas says that means they are subject to 1st Amendment protections. She says ACLU offices across the country are fielding complaints from constituents who are being blocked.

Two people have made complaints against Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative Mia Love.

In response, the ACLU sent a letter to all members of Utah’s Congressional Delegation.

“Remind the delegation that they have some 1st Amendment obligations to tolerate certain speech on the online forums that they open up with the public,” Thomas said.

Senator Hatch’s office sent ABC4 Utah some examples of posts they have blocked. We can not show most of them, but here’s one threat to the senator on Twitter: “@senorrinhatch Just remember Scalise.” As in, Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise who was critically wounded when a gunman opened fire at a congressional baseball practice in June, 2017.

Hatch’s Director of Communications Matt Whitlock released the following statement:

“As in traditional and nontraditional forums, whether public or private, we have posted commonsense rules on Senator Hatch’s Facebook page to prevent it from being used to traffic in palpably offensive content or demonstrably false information. We eagerly welcome the sharing of all viewpoints, and we are happy to engage when it’s possible to answer questions or clarify confusion. But, to be clear, we are under no obligation to allow Senator Hatch’s Facebook page to be used as a platform for offensive content or misinformation. Anyone interested in posting such material has many alternative forums on an open and free internet.”

Representative Love’s Director of Communications Rich Piatt adds:

Our office has guidelines posted on the congresswoman’s official Facebook page to prevent offensive, abusive, false language and content or solicitation. Blocking is extremely rare and if it happens would be a result of a glaring violation of those rules.”

Thomas agrees obscene and threatening comments are not protected, but she says she’s confident protected speech has been blocked.

“What we are talking about specifically, that we found worrisome about the complaints we received is when they block people who merely are annoying, or disagreeable or critical,” said Thomas.

Thomas says the federal delegation has reacted positively, and they are hopeful a lawsuit can be avoided.

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Glen Mills

Chief Political Correspondent

For this Beetdigger and Ute it’s an honor to be doing what he loves in his home state! Glen is an award-winning journalist, who joined the ABC4 News team in June 2013. You can catch him anchoring ABC4 News at 5 and 6, Monday through Friday. He also serves as our Senior Political Correspondent, keeping you up to date on issues that impact your life at the city, state and national level. His political reports run throughout the week, and he hosts Inside Utah Politics, Sunday mornings at 8. The Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has recognized Glen as the best government and military television reporter in the state. Before returning home to Utah, he spent 11 1/2 years developing his journalism skills in other states. He held various on-air and management positions at KPVI in Pocatello, Idaho, WGBA in Green Bay, Wisconsin and KKCO in Grand Junction, Colorado during that time. Read More...