Congress

Facebook feud: GOP Rep. Peter King, faces lawsuit threat over blocking constituents

The New York Civil Liberties Union said it plans to sue King if he does not unblock roughly 70 people

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., has blocked about 70 people from commenting on his campaign committee’s Facebook page, a civil rights organization said. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

When Rep. Peter King congratulated former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson on his appointment to secretary of state on Facebook, a constituent responded by posting a link to donations the oil company made to King and other federal lawmakers.

“Money talks, anyone wondering why [t]he Congressman is not expressing any concern or doubt need look no further,” the constituent wrote.

The New York Republican’s page quickly blocked the resident of his 2nd District.

The Republican congressman has blocked as many as 70 people from his “Congressman Peter KingFacebook page, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The bans infringe on the posters’ First Amendment rights, the civil rights organization said. Attorneys for the New York affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union are prepping a lawsuit, and warned they will move forward against King if he does not unblock them.

“Like ejecting them from that town hall, banning users from your Facebook page stifles their ability to weigh in on your work on their behalf,” the organization said in a letter to King. “It limits their participation in our democratic process, striking at the heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee.”

Constituents were banned for critical comments that pressed the congressman to host in-person town halls.

When the House passed the American Health Care Act in 2017, rolling back the protections of the Affordable Care Act, King deleted several comments criticizing the vote from his Facebook page, ProPublica reported.

“Having my voice and opinions shut down by the person who represents me — especially when my voice and opinion wasn’t vulgar and obscene — is frustrating, it’s disheartening, and I think it points to perhaps a larger problem with our representatives and maybe their priorities,” Ashleigh Morley, a blocked poster, told the news site.

King defended scrubbing the page by saying it is operated and promoted by his campaign committee, not his taxpayer-funded office.

“I’m on 100 percent solid legal ground. That Facebook account is political. It is paid for by my campaign committee. It’s the same as having people write negative comments on a campaign brochure and sending that out,” King said in an interview with Newsday. “They can get their own Facebook account and attack me, rather than me paying for it.”

The New York Civil Liberties Union argues that the congressman still has an obligation to keep the page open to critical posts, since the page includes trappings signaling his status as a member of Congress.

“Having reaped the benefits of the page’s official status, you cannot now ignore those benefits to avoid your obligations under the Constitution,” the organization wrote. 

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