The New York Civil Liberties Union warned U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) that if he doesn’t unblock an estimated 70 people from commenting on his Facebook page, the group will sue.
The NYCLU issued the warning Wednesday in a letter to Long Island’s most senior congressman, who has responded to previous criticisms of blocking users by saying that the Facebook page is his campaign account and not his official government account. But the NYCLU says that since King uses the page to make announcements, weigh in on policy issues, and correspond with constituents, it should be considered a public forum.
“You have wrapped the page in the trappings of your office, using it as a tool of governance and benefiting from it as an elected official,” NYCLU attorneys Christopher Dunn, Antony Gemmell, and Melissa Pettit wrote in the letter. “Having reaped the benefits of the page’s official status, you cannot now ignore those benefits to avoid your obligations under the Constitution. Silencing constituents for criticizing you is, to borrow language from the Supreme Court, ‘censorship in its purest form’ that ‘threatens the continued vitality of free speech.'”
Fellow Republican President Donald Trump has also been sued for his practice of blocking Twitter users that are critical of him. A federal judge ruled that Trump cannot block Twitter critics since the president’s account is used in an official government capacity. An appeals court is expected to rule on that issue soon.
Among the Facebook users blocked are a Great River resident who was banned minutes after posting on King’s page to call the congressman out about deleting critical comments.
“Why are so many posts disappearing?” the user asked, according to the NYCLU. “Last night it seemed like over half the people did not agree with what Congressman King had to say, now they are all gone . . . . Aren’t Congressmen supposed to represent and listen to all his constituents even those that don’t agree with him?”
King’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but we will update this post if and when we hear back. The NYCLU gave the congressman a deadline of May 3 to respond or they will file suit.