VIRGINIA BEACH – After receiving several complaints concerning Rep. Scott Taylor’s social media behavior, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has asked the freshman congressman to discontinue violating his constituent’s First Amendment rights.
In a letter dated June 22, Leslie Mehta, a legal director for the Virginia office, asked Taylor to “review [his] social media policy so that it adheres to [his] constituent’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression.”
— ACLU of Virginia (@ACLUVA) June 29, 2017
“As social media becomes more integral to the political process and public discourse, government officials must not engage in any form of viewpoint censorship in violation of the First Amendment,” Mehta wrote in the letter.
Taylor’s online activity was first called into question more than four months ago at his Kempsville High School town hall. Lulani Mae, a constituent who said she voted for Taylor, approached the microphone and said after expressing concern over a recent policy vote, she was blocked from his unofficial Facebook page.
Taylor apologized and said the block would be removed, but according to Mae, that never happened.
A day after Southside Daily published Mae’s account, all visitor posts were removed from Taylor’s unofficial Facebook page. A statement from Taylor’s political direct, Scott Weldon, said that “Democrat activists do not get to dictate the dialogue about how our campaign page is run.”
In the letter, Mehta also claimed that Taylor uses his unofficial social media accounts in an official capacity, citing the discrepancy in the number of followers his unofficial and official Facebook pages have – 56,000 to 2,000, respectively.
“It is also evident that you communicate with your constituents in an official capacity on the unofficial page, discussing voting decisions, policy and descriptions/photos of public appearances in your official capacity as a congressman,” Mehta wrote.
Mehta referenced a Fourth Circuit Court ruling that held that “speech online should be afforded the same protections as speech offline under the First Amendment.”
When the ACLU tweeted about the allegations earlier this year, Taylor responded with a screenshot of the organization’s Twitter policy on removing and editing comments.
2. Dear pot, this is kettle. pic.twitter.com/skPMiQB4kk
— Scott Taylor (@Scotttaylorva) March 10, 2017
“Thus, though designated differently, your unofficial page appears to be an official congressional social media account,” Mehta wrote.
After the town hall, Southside Daily spoke to several of Taylor’s constituents who each alleged that Taylor had blocked them after making similar comments.
Virginia Beach resident Sonia Galvez filed a complaint with the ACLU in May after she was also blocked by Taylor’s social media accounts. Galvez said she had been blocked before the February town hall.
Galvez received a copy of the letter sent to Taylor’s Washington, D.C. and Virginia Beach offices on Wednesday.
“I’m cautiously hopeful but not really optimistic that he will change anything,” Galvez said, “but maybe. He’s very set in his ways and defensive.”
Melissa Wise also received a copy of the letter. About two weeks ago, Wise filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics after she said she was blocked by Taylor. Wise tweeted what she called a “critical response” to a tweet from Taylor that didn’t include and profane language.
Rev. James Allen filed a similar complaint with the OCE in April.
In a previous interview with Southside Daily, Taylor justified his actions.
“There are some people who get on there and all they’re doing is just attacking and all that stuff,” Taylor told Southside Daily in February. “Whether you do or don’t agree with it, they’re not censored.”
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump was also criticized for blocking constituents on social media, which the Knight First Amendment Institute said violates the U.S. Constitution. Katie Fallow, a representative of the institute, called Taylor’s activity “analogous to the situation with the president.”
“You can’t exclude people based on their views,” Fallow said. “There have been cases dealing with when officials use their private email accounts for public business. You can’t effectively insulate your actions from legal review or constitutional limitations by using a private account.”
A spokesperson for the Republican Party of Virginia declined to comment. A request for comment from Rep. Taylor’s office and the Virginia Beach Republican Party had not been answered by the time of publication.
Read the full letter from the ACLU here.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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