Jimmy’s Colorado Politics Column | Twitter blocking a bipartisan game

Written by on June 29, 2021

Last Thursday, Judge Daniel Domenico of the U.S. District Court for Colorado upheld the right of U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert to block a Democratic constituent from the Republican congresswoman’s personal Twitter feed. While Democrats may cry foul over this ruling, they shouldn’t fool themselves. Blocking political opponents on social media is a bipartisan pastime 

The case Domenico decided was brought by a Boebert constituent, Bri Buentello, whom Boebert had blocked from viewing and engaging with tweets on her personal Twitter.  Buentello is a former Democratic state representative and chairwoman of Rural Colorado United, a PAC that has doggedly targeted Boebert.

Buentello and her lawyer, David Lane, requested an injunction to force the Republican lawmaker to unblock her.  They insisted that, because the congresswoman’s personal Twitter is heavily political, blocking and thereby preventing a constituent from interacting with Boebert’s feed violates her constituent’s free speech rights.  Boebert’s congressional lawyers countered that there is a significant difference between her personal account (@laurenboebert) and her official Twitter (@repboebert).

Domenico sided with Boebert.  “The First Amendment’s protection of the people’s right to free speech, like other rights protected by the Constitution, is implicated only when the government, not a private entity or individual, regulates speech,” he concluded.

“The unrebutted evidence shows that no government staff operate the @laurenboebert account,” Domenico added, so “the court will not interfere in the operation of Representative Boebert’s Twitter account.”

It may be tempting for Democrats to jump on Boebert for blocking constituents.  If you’re coming at this from a consistent position of principle, have at it.  But if you’re a partisan operative looking to score political points, you might want to hold up. 

As a member of the media and someone who is currently blocked from the personal Twitters of at least two Colorado elected officials, I’m not a fan of this kind of thing.  I’d prefer if elected officials would simply “mute” their opponents’ Twitter accounts instead, thus avoiding antagonistic tweets rather than blocking users.

Regardless of where you come down on this, it’s worth keeping in mind that elected Republicans and elected Democrats alike block constituents and other political opponents on social media all the time.  While it’s usually a personal account, electeds of either party have been known to block constituents from official accounts as well.  I speak from personal experience.

In December 2020, I wrote my first column on Denver Public Schools board member Tay Anderson.  My piece at the time, written for The Gazette, was entitled “The curious case of Tay Anderson.”  The next day, Anderson quietly blocked me from his personal Twitter account (@TayAndersonCO). 

Mind you, it appears I’d only tweeted at that handle once, on November 28, 2020.  This was long before serious allegations arose against Anderson for sexual assault on DPS students — an ever-expanding story that I’ve closely followed — and I wasn’t pestering him on Twitter or anything of the sort.  I simply made one tweet mentioning @TayAndersonCO and then published one column which raised questions about the media’s inadequate coverage of Anderson’s antics — and boom! I was blocked. Talk about thin-skinned. 

Three caveats are important to bring up.  First, while I remain blocked from Anderson’s personal account, he has never blocked me from his government Twitter account (@DirectorTay). Second, I’m not a constituent of Anderson’s, as I live in Aurora and not Denver.  Third, I have other Twitter accounts, so I can still view Anderson’s Tweets irrespective of his petty blocking. 

I am, however, a constituent of Joan Lopez, Arapahoe County’s clerk and recorder.  Remember the Bomb Cyclone that hit Colorado on March 13, 2019?  That day I made some tweets exposing Lopez’s hyper-partisan activities leading an independent expenditure committee while holding the position responsible for Arapahoe elections — something her predecessor, Matt Crane, never did. 

Lo and behold, that afternoon, I was blocked by both Lopez’s personal account (@Thevotinglady) and her official account (@ArapahoeClerk).  Lopez not only blocked me from @ArapahoeClerk, but she also blocked another Twitter user who had retweeted my critical Lopez tweets, as well as former Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert and Crane’s wife, Lisa.  We were all Lopez’s constituents.

The clerk unblocked us from her government account the next day.  I can’t speak for the others, but I remain blocked from her personal account.  (None of us have filed lawsuits for the @ArapahoeClerk incident.)

Interestingly, both Anderson and Lopez have been known to blur the line between personal and official on their personal Twitters.  For example, Anderson has posted images of various “Statement[s] from Director Anderson” containing letterhead for “Denver School Board At-Large” on his “personal” Twitter.

Similarly, Lopez has shared elections information on her “personal” feed, and for months in 2019, her Twitter name was “Joan Lopez Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder,” indicating a professional account.  But I digress.

The fact is that the bipartisan reality about social media blocking is quite clear.  Whether politicians who have been elected to office should block political opponents or not, the fact is that they do — both Republicans and Democrats.

Click here to read the rest of Jimmy’s June 29 column at Colorado Politics, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner.

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