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Like most political discourse in recent months, Congressman Scott Taylor and his constituents have embraced the digital sphere to foster conversation. Those who don’t live within a short distance of his two offices can use his Facebook page to stay informed.
On Jan. 30, Taylor held his first Facebook Live town hall from Washington D.C., giving his nearly 55,000 Facebook followers a chance to listen and ask questions in real time.
“It’s a very effective way of communicating with a lot of people at one time, for no cost, essentially,” Taylor said.
But some constituents say they have been blocked from communicating with Taylor via Facebook.
Lulani Mae, of Virginia Beach, said she voted for Taylor in the Nov. 8 election because she thought his military background would lend to his ability to successfully represent Virginia’s 2nd district, which includes the City of Williamsburg and York County, as well as some areas of James City County.
At the Feb. 20 Kempsville town hall, Mae told Taylor she’s been blocked from posting or participating in conversations on his Facebook page.
“I’m no longer allowed to post on your Facebook page,” Mae told Taylor at the town hall, “and it’s very disappointing.”
After Taylor suggested that Mae had been blocked by staff members for inappropriate behavior, she said her only recent comment was when she expressed disappointment with his representation of the district.
“He told me he was sorry and that he would unblock me, but that hasn’t happened yet,” Mae said in an interview with Southside Daily.
Mae isn’t the only constituent to make such a claim. Three more second congressional district residents allege the same treatment by Taylor and his staff.
Mary Meade Holtz, a Hampton resident and president of the Virginia Peninsula National Organization for Women, said that she was also blocked from posting or commenting on Taylor’s Facebook page.
After Taylor posted a photo on his Facebook profile in which he was posing with President Donald Trump, she commented and asked him what he planned to do about attacks on sanctuary cities within his district.
The next time Holtz went back to the social media page, she found herself in the same situation Mae had. She could no longer speak to her congressman via Facebook.
“I called his office in D.C. and asked about it,” Holtz said. “They took my email and name and said they would get back to me, but I haven’t heard anything yet.”
Holtz said she tried to make a post from her own page to ask about why she had prevented from speaking on his page. She tagged the congressman in her post, trying to determine if there was an alternative form of communication with him about it.
Her post went unanswered.
Williamsburg resident Sheila Ann Glennon told Taylor at a Yorktown town hall that she is frustrated she cannot participate in legislature-related surveys or queries posted by his staff, especially in light of Taylor’s stance that it’s important for constituents to use social media to share their police opinions.
Like other constituents, Glennon is unable to comment or post.
Glennon said she was blocked from the page after posting a comment that called the travel ban “religious discrimination.” She said that while she doesn’t believe her First Amendment rights have been violated, she thinks that being barred from participating is contradictory behavior.
“He himself said at that town hall that he uses Facebook to gauge his constituents’ reactions to policies,” Glennon said. “If comments are being deleted and people are being prevented from commenting, how is he serving all of his constituents?”
Glennon said, as a backup plan, she bought a stack of postcards. Every time she wants her voice to be heard on an issue, she slips another card in the mail to Taylor’s office.
“I know that at least those will get through,” Glennon said. “I pay my taxes. I do have a right to be represented.”
Anne Tucker founded the political action group Indivisible 757. She lives in Virginia Beach and recently visited Taylor’s local office with a friend who uses a wheelchair.
Tucker said that when the pair arrived at the office, there wasn’t a push button on the door to assist handicapped visitors. Concerned, she asked Taylor’s staff if they would consider adding the feature or asking the building’s owner to do so.
“I wasn’t sure they understood what I was asking, so I tried to send Taylor a message on Facebook,” Tucker said, adding that she wasn’t able to because she’d been blocked.
Like Glennon, Tucker said she is frustrated because she also heard Taylor tell town hall attendees that he uses social media to monitor his constituents’ comments.
“If you are censoring the public voice of the people who you are representing, then you’re not able to truly have an informed view,” Tucker said.
But Taylor says he’s not censoring his constituents on Facebook.
Taylor said that members of his staff have the authority to block users from his Facebook page if their behavior is “out of line.” He added that the groups Tucker and Holtz belong to are organized to “disrupt things.”
“There are some people who get on there and all they’re doing is just attacking and all that stuff,” Taylor said. “Whether you do or don’t agree with it, they’re not censored.”
Each of the women said they never used profanity or attacked other commenters. Each said they used the Facebook page to make their stances known to Taylor.
“I never said anything nasty or name-called or anything of that nature,” Holtz said. “I don’t know if a carefully crafted response is just more threatening than name-calling.”
Last month, the Maryland branch of the American Civil Liberties Union responded to similar accusations against Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
Seeing the action against Hogan, Tucker said she decided to follow suit.
“I contacted the Virginia ACLU and let them know what was going on,” Tucker said. “If you can’t take it when someone disagrees with you, then you should stop using Facebook in an official capacity.”
Poulter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was published in partnership with WYDaily’s sister publication, Southside Daily.