Rep. Gosar tells blocked Facebook followers, 'I don't care'

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(Source: 3TV/ CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/ CBS 5)
(Source: The Associated Press) (Source: The Associated Press)

An Arizona congressman is defending his decision to block some followers of his official Facebook page, saying in a post on the social media site that, "I don't care" if people he blocks are upset.

Rep. Paul Gosar wrote that he plans on continuing his practice of banning some users from commenting. The Flagstaff Republican said it's his Facebook page and his property and there are plenty of ways to petition the government besides the social media site.

He said anyone can call his office or send an email and his staff "does a terrific job of addressing these issues and briefing me on your messages."

"If you think a block on Facebook is infringing upon your constitutional right to petition the government, you are sorely mistaken," he said. "You want to petition the government? Terrific. Call my office and file a complaint. Write me a letter spelling out your grievances."

His spokeswoman, Faith Vander Voort, said Monday that Gosar's post was prompted by a letter to the editor published by two local newspapers in his district. She said his policy is clearly posted on his Facebook page.

"A lot of members of Congress have these disclaimers that say these are our rules, please follow it. And we abide by it," Vander Voort said. "We have no problem blocking people who don't adhere to our policies."

Gosar said in the message posted on Friday that he blocks people who add off-topic items or engage in "profanity, name-calling, threats, personal attacks, known factual inaccuracies or other inappropriate comments."

"Our policies are clear and lack any gray area whatsoever," he wrote. "If you would like to voice your concern, there are plenty of places for you to do so, including my Facebook. But the moment you become disrespectful to me or my staff with crude language or distasteful discourse, you lose the opportunity to do so."

He also pointed to last month's shooting of Republican Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana as a counter to anyone who believes that he should not take harsh online rhetoric seriously. Scalise, the majority whip, remains in serious condition at a Washington hospital.

"Late Wednesday evening, I received word that my colleague Whip Steve Scalise was re-admitted to intensive care as he continues to fight for his life after a gunman took him out," his Facebook post said. "So, if you genuinely think that Members of Congress should not take your hostile, crass and inappropriate rhetoric as a threat, I challenge you, ask Mr. Scalise for his thoughts. Ask his wife. Ask his children.

"Because, quite frankly, we don't care if a Facebook 'block' offends you."

Reaction to Gosar's post was mixed, but most of the 200-plus responses posted by Monday seemed supportive. Others criticized Gosar for blocking comments on a site maintained by his staff, who are government employees.

Vander Voort said she doesn't have an exact count but suspects that "hundreds" of people have been blocked from viewing Gosar's Facebook feed or posting comments since he took office in 2011. She also said the gunman who shot Scalise had posted Facebook messages that could be seen as threatening.

Gunman James T. Hodgkinson left a trail of anti-Trump and anti-Republican postings on social media, and belonged to one group called "Terminate the Republican Party."

"It just goes to show that threats on Facebook and other forms of social media to someone's life or someone's well-being are actual threats," she said. "And it needs to be seen that way."

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