Craig DuBose likes to let his 5th District congressman know how he feels about issues, and he regularly posts comments on Tom Garrett’s Facebook page—until he discovered he’d been blocked December 7.
DuBose says he called Garrett’s Washington office the next day, and was transferred to communications director Matt Missen, who told him he’d violated the terms of service for the Facebook page.
“He refused to provide any specific instances of the supposed violations except to say that I had used profanity,” says DuBose. “That’s absolutely not true.”
DuBose says he asked to speak to the chief of staff, and Missen refused to transfer him—or take a message. After reminding Missen that case law in Virginia makes it illegal for elected officials to prohibit constituents from engaging on Facebook, DuBose, who says he’s called his congressman’s office 150 times this year, hung up.
Five minutes later he called back to comment on health care, and was immediately transferred to Missen, who refused to take his message and hung up on him, says DuBose.
He called Garrett’s Charlottesville office to leave a message about health care and asked the person answering to pass along a message to the D.C. office that he was filing a complaint with the ACLU that the office was violating Davison v. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, the federal court case that ruled public officials who conduct public business on social media accounts can’t block constituents, even if they’re frequent flyers.
Five minutes later, says DuBose, Missen phoned back and said he was reporting DuBose to Capitol Police for “harassing” Garrett’s office.
Missen confirms the Facebook blocking and calling the cops on DuBose.
“He violated the social media policy,” says the spokesperson. “He repeatedly cyberstalked members of our staff and made inflammatory comments.”
Missen alleges DuBose threatened him. “He’s going to be getting a visit from Capitol Police,” he says.
While Missen would not disclose the threats, he says, “We do not tolerate that when cyberstalking and threatening staff.”
And he makes a suggestion: “When you speak to Mr. DuBose, I think he should be a little more careful because there’s an active investigation.”
“That’s interesting,” says DuBose. “I wonder what the threats were. It’s clearly intimidation.”
After pondering the cyberstalking allegation, DuBose says he went to the Facebook page of Garrett’s former communications director, who had posted a photo of his girlfriend wearing an American flag bikini and scarf.
“I sent an email to Tom Garrett after he made a speech on the floor of the House about honoring the flag, and said, ‘Maybe you’d like to speak to members of your staff about honoring the flag,’” says DuBose, who disagrees that commenting about a public Facebook page constitutes cyberstalking.
A U.S. Capitol Police spokesperson refused to provide more detail. “We do not comment on active investigations,” says Eva Malecki.
DuBose is not the only local who’s been blocked on Garrett’s social media accounts. Nest Realty’s Jim Duncan was blocked on Twitter earlier this year. Garrett’s office said it was the congressman’s personal account, on which he can block whomever he pleases.
Duncan says that reasoning is “BS” because Garrett uses that account “officially as well.”
Leslie Mehta, legal director for ACLU of Virginia, likens social media to a town hall, and blocking constituents from commenting and seeing what an elected official is saying “violates the First Amendment and the ability to see what your government is doing.”
The civil liberties org has gotten about a dozen complaints in the past year, which points to a pattern, says Mehta. The rules aren’t entirely clear at this point, and what started as a personal account could change into a public account, she says. In its amicus brief for Davison v. Loudoun, the ACLU offers suggestions to help legislators protect rights of both the elected and citizens, she adds.
Meanwhile, DuBose is still wondering what threats he allegedly made. “The only thing I”ve ever said is that I’m committed to seeing [Garrett] is not re-elected,” says DuBose. “If that’s the case, plenty of people in the 5th District are guilty of that.”