Politics & Government

Like Trump, these Texas lawmakers block people on social media. Here's why

Some Texans say they've been blocked on social media sites such as Facebook by their elected officials.
Some Texans say they've been blocked on social media sites such as Facebook by their elected officials. AP

Christina Miller is frustrated.

She tends to keep up with her politicians through Facebook — and sometimes throws in her own two cents.

That's what she did, anyway, until she was blocked from their pages.

"This is all very frustrating to me, because when you are blocked, you don't even realize you are missing what your elected officials are saying," the 28-year-old IT consultant in Arlington said. "Most of these folks aren't having town halls, so social media is one of the only ways to see/receive communications."

Miller now is among those across the country wondering if a new federal court ruling issued to address President Donald Trump's blocking people from his Twitter account will bring about any change.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled this week that it's unconstitutional for Trump to block people from following his Twitter account.

The reason, according to the ruling, is that Twitter is an "interactive space" that qualifies as a public forum. So blocking followers violates free-speech rights.

"I think elected officials at all levels should be engaging with constituents, not blocking them online," said Emily Farris, an assistant political science professor at TCU. "Elected officials should use social media as a powerful tool to engage community members to learn about issues and make their voices heard."

Many do.

Threats, vulgarity

But state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, said there are times that lawmakers need to block people on social media.

Those times include when he receives threats or disparaging or vulgar comments.

Tinderholt — who canceled his Twitter account after he was elected to the Texas House because of repeated death threats — said his Facebook presence is made up of a personal page and a campaign page.

"It's not a state-sanctioned page," he said. "I put on there what I or other people are doing, but it's a campaign page."

So when he or someone who works for his campaign sees threats, curse words or disparaging comments, chances are that they'll block those posters.

Tinderholt said he turns threats over to law enforcers to review. And he said he consulted an attorney before blocking anyone.

"I don't want to quell anyone's voice," Tinderholt said. "We don't arbitrarily say, 'Oh, I don't like what they say,' and delete or ban them.

"But there's a certain amount of humanity you give people," he said. "If you can't act that way, you don't need to be on the page."

Miller said she couldn't recall exactly what she posted on Tinderholt's page before she was banned, but she thought it involved the topics of Planned Parenthood and Christianity.

"I believe I made a comment that he should focus God's teachings on his fourth marriage and not on my uterus," she said.

'This is democracy'

Miller said she has been blocked from Facebook pages for Tinderholt, state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. She also was temporarily blocked from the Facebook page of U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, but was able to get her access to that page restored.

She said she emailed Burton to find out why she was blocked, but never received a reply. Neither Burton nor Patrick immediately responded to requests for comment.

"Whether I like it, or they like it, they are my representatives," Miller said. "They do not just represent the people who voted for them. My tax dollars are their paycheck too. I want (to be) treated the same way they treat there followers and donors. That's the job they signed up for — to represent everyone."

That's also why Jeffry Faircloth, a graduate student at TCU, is irked.

He said he has been blocked from Burton's Facebook page and believes it happened around Christmas.

That's when he said Burton wrote several posts about the federal tax bill. He responded by saying that the tax bill isn't an issue that would come before her in the Texas Legislature, but noted that if she was going to address federal issues then perhaps she could speak out about foul language the president had used.

The next time he tried to post on her page, he realized he had been blocked.

"I was frustrated by it," said Faircloth, 33. "I feel it's not helpful to our nation and her district just to be an echo chamber of one point of view.

"This is democracy," he said. "We are in the 21st Century and we've got social media, so that's where a lot of the public discourse is taking place. It's not helpful to block people."

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

Thursday night, President Donald Trump's Twitter account briefly went out. Twitter later tweeted that Trump's account was "inadvertently deactivated due to human error" by an employee on his or her last day at work.