On free speech, a new era and that blocking thing | Editorial – Chico Enterprise-Record

Posted: October 27, 2019 at 3:30 pm

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Its been quite a week for free speech around these parts.

Earlier this week, we reported that information gathered from a public records request showed Chico Mayor Randall Stone, along with councilors Alex Brown and Scott Huber, had blocked people from their political Facebook pages, essentially depriving them of their First Amendment rights. And yesterday, we reported that councilor Sean Morgan admitted he had also blocked people as mayor, but no longer has a political Facebook page as a council member which is why we were unable to receive any information from him regarding our request.

Based on the information we have in hand, Stone was the biggest violator. Our list showed 19 people had been blocked from his Mayor Randall Stone page, and in the days that followed, two more people showed us proof they had been blocked as well.

The actions of Brown and Huber seem far less egregious. Brown blocked only one person and said it was because of hate speech a claim others have told us is accurate. Huber, the first to respond to our request, admitted to making five blocks (two people, three groups) before becoming aware of the possible legal issues, and hasnt done it since.

The other councilors either said they had never blocked anyone or didnt operate a political Facebook page.

The Facebook-block-fever then extended to Oroville, where one resident complained that councilor Linda Draper had blocked him from Facebook. We researched that and agreed with Drapers position that her Facebook page is personal, not political, so shes free to block anybody shed like.

Its been an astounding story to investigate and report. From our end, we contacted the editors of two dozen daily newspapers (from Los Angeles to the Oregon border) and asked each if theyd received any complaints from readers about any local elected official blocking them on Facebook. Not a single one had heard such a thing; a grand total of one said hed gotten one complaint from one reader saying a mayor (in Southern California) had blocked him on Twitter.

That was it.

Violating the free speech rights of citizens is not a charge we take lightly. The fact that it didnt seem to be happening anywhere else definitely not to this extent made our jaws drop. So we did a lot of investigating, and a lot of reporting on the multi-leveled-layers of legalities surrounding the issue, and ran the story.

We recognize theres a lot of new here, for the politicians as well as us. It can take a while to decipher the difference between a private Facebook page and that of a government actor who is discussing official duties on a public profile. And, we are encouraged by the actions taken by our Chico councilors; theres been a lot of unblocking going on lately. (And, we trust other local elected officials have learned from this, because chances are we havent filed our last public records request.)

Stone said he first began unblocking people after a city attorney told him blocking was a path best avoided. And, to his credit, Stone has forcefully spoken out from the dais in favor of the rights of people to have their say at council meetings in the past even if it sometime wanders too close to offensive territory. So, we know he gets that part. After our stories, we hope all elected officials understand those rights drift over into the social-media realm, too.

Because, remember, thats why the First Amendment was written to protect speech that is controversial.

After all, no one ever complains about the other kind.

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On free speech, a new era and that blocking thing | Editorial - Chico Enterprise-Record

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