As a U.S. Appeals Court rules President Trump’s blocking people on Twitter who criticize him is unconstitutional, an elected official from Jacksonville is deleting comments and banning some constituents from expressing their views on her Facebook page.
One of those blocked is Myra Freeman. She said she’s followed all of her local officials on social media ever since the 2016 elections.
As a resident of Jacksonville’s Northside, Freeman lives in Florida House District 14 represented by Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville.
Freeman said she was scrolling through her Facebook feed when she came across a post by Daniels. It was a photo of the representative with text about the idea of karma. It said, in part, "Dont (sic) waste your time binding karma or trying to pull it down. Bind the devil, pull down strongholds and let the Holy Spirit use you..."
Freeman said she had already felt uncomfortable with Daniels’ previous posts full of religious content, and this was the final straw. So she said she wrote a comment on the post, saying the messages don’t coincide with separation of church and state and asked Daniels to stop posting religious content.
“[Rep. Daniels] deleted my comment,” Freeman said. “She went on a rant where she classified me as ‘anti-Christ folks’…after that, she blocked me from making any comments or giving any emotional reaction.” As Freeman demonstrated for WJCT News, that means she can’t react to Daniels’ posts at all, even to “like” them. Only the “share” button is an option.
“Not only am I deleting but banning all negativity,” Daniels said in a comment on her post. “Find another page...lol.”
“Yall (sic) know usually I hold my peace,” Daniels added in another comment. “But isn't it amazing that folk WHO ARE NOT OUR FRIENDS, dont (sic) go to our churches, dont (sic) live in our neighborhoods and have no commonality with us come all the way over to our FB to tell us what to post...AMAZING! This is not communist China and we can say what the heck we want to. Yall (sic) better open your mouths LOUD and let these antichrist folk know we love our country and reserve the right to speak freely!!!”
“It’s very ironic,” Freeman said. “I’ve lived in [ZIP code] 32218 for 25 years, give or take a few weeks.”
Freeman said she contacted some of her friends, who proceeded to make similar comments on Daniels’ post.
Within hours, all of their comments were deleted, too, four other people told WJCT News.
“It’s absolutely censorship,” said constituent Catherine Corby. “I was really just shocked. You hear about a lot of stuff like this, but it was being so blatantly clear that it was discriminatory in nature.”
Apart from representing parts of Jacksonville’s Northside and Westside, Daniels is also a lead pastor for Spoken Word Ministries. She has also authored several Christian books.
“I feel like I’m living in merry old England and District 14 is ruled by her specific church,” Freeman said. “I don’t have any voice at all in my government.”
Media law professors studying officials’ blocking constituents online say the legal landscape is still murky on the issue, but there are indicators Daniels could be unlawfully discriminating against constituents based on their views.
“We have about a dozen cases that have been filed around the country relating to government officials’ use of Twitter and Facebook,” said David Ardia, an associate professor and co-director of the Center for Media Law and Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We have the law sort of catching up to how these platforms are being used.”
Ardia said there are three main factors in determining whether government officials are infringing on citizens’ right to make comments on their pages: how the page is described, how it is being used, and how it is being perceived by others.
The Facebook page Freeman and other Jacksonville residents commented on is named “State Representative Kimberly Daniels.” Ardia said that title could be key.
“That would suggest that this page, at least for some of the time, is being used as part of her official communication strategy as a state representative,” Ardia said.
Posts earlier this year during the spring legislative session showcased Daniels on the House floor pushing bills. But since the session ended, postings Daniels has made on the State Representative Kimberly Daniels page are primarily about her radio show on Praise 107.9 FM, along with other religious content. She also maintains a personal Facebook profile.
Daniels isn’t the first public figure to come under scrutiny for blocking constituents on social media.
In early July, a federal appeals court ruled President Trump was violating the Constitution by blocking people on his Twitter account because he used the site to conduct government business.
In Florida, Republican state Rep. Chuck Clemons, who represents part of Gainesville, is in a legal battle with a constituent whom he blocked on Twitter last year. The constituent asked Clemons to explain his vote to block discussion on a bill to ban assault weapons a week after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
Clemons’ attorney claims he has legislative immunity, which prevents constituents from suing lawmakers for how they vote and speeches they give.
Frank Lomonte, a media and First Amendment law professor at the University of Florida, said becoming a government official doesn’t restrict the right to express religious beliefs.
“Speech is speech,” Lomonte said. “Everybody – elected officials included – has a First Amendment right to express their views, including their religious views. I think an interesting case would be if people are being banned or excluded from the page because of differing religious expressions…you can’t ban a person for political viewpoint from a government page, and you can’t ban them from a religious viewpoint either.”
The professors said constituents can sue when they feel they’re being unlawfully excluded, but the costs associated with legal action are not viable for many people.
“The best solution, I think, is to educate public officials,” Ardia said. “Part of their obligation, part of their duty as public officials is to accept some criticism, to accept that people are going to disagree with them.”
Daniels’ constituents who feel their voices are being silenced aren’t optimistic educating her will work.
“We really need to show up and we need to vote,” Catherine Corby said. “We’re not going to be censored, we’re not going to be pushed into a corner, we’re not going to be told that we don’t have a voice. A lot of elected officials have forgotten that they work for us.”
WJCT News reached out to Rep. Daniels by email, phone, and Facebook Messenger and left messages with staff at her Tallahassee office and at her ministry, as well as multiple voicemails at her Jacksonville district office, but received no reply by this story’s deadline.
Sky Lebron is on Twitter @SkylerLebron.