By Joe Mikolajczak
It’s all too familiar. We see the Trump Administration and the rest of the Republican Party chipping away at our liberties in various ways. We see this, and some of us have seen it coming for a long time – but how many people don’t know and or bother to find out how our civil liberties are being attacked. When it’s too late they’ll be wondering what happened. I made observations of the local political social media and came to some unsettling conclusions.
There are various forms of censorship, so let’s start with something that everyone’s familiar with and bring it closer to home; the Facebook page of Dave Brat. Brat won the vote to become the Republican Congressman of the 7th District of Virginia in 2014. He’s coming to the end of his second term and struggling to get re-elected for a third. He is doing whatever he can to reach that goal; constitutionality and ethics only seem to get in the way.
The constituents of the 7th District have complained to Brat for a long time about access to his office simply to express their concerns about various legislation. They have had reasonable expectations for Brat to listen so he can represent their interest in Congress. That’s his job, his only job and he must do it because of “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”Brat continues to be inaccessible and simply by not listening, he establishes just a “little bit” of censorship. He’s probably hoping that “little bit” of censorship will carry him a long way.
We already know about the Trump model of censorship on his Twitter account, where people who disagree with him were blocked. The courts ruled that action unconstitutional because he is currently the President of the United States and is required to allow public access.
Dave Brat has had his own share of controversy with his Facebook page when, last year, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Sara James – who handled his social media communications and events, along with being his campaign manager for about 3 months– was trolling his Facebook page using aggressive and “unkind” comments to constituents while still being paid by Brat’s campaign. That didn’t seem to bother Brat in the least. For all the times that he’s mentioned ethics, you would think that he would be capable of making a better moral decision about attacking the constituents of the 7th District from his office.
There were also concerns raised about Brat’s Twitter account, earlier this year, where “Likes” were adjusted by his staff to place him in a better light.
Using staff members to intimidate people from posting their views is a form of censorship. This is a bullying tactic taken directly from Donald Trump’s playbook, except that Brat isn’t brave enough to do it on his own.
Adjusting “Likes” on his Twitter account is a step up on his Censorship Ladder. It’s not exactly deleting words, but when someone “Likes” on a social media platform, they’re making a statement. They’re expressing themselves and are relying that no one – especially Dave Brat – will resort to “abridging the freedom of speech.” And yet, that is exactly what he’s doing, “abridging the freedom of speech.” This is undeniable. I would also say that this is immoral, unethical, and unconstitutional.
We might as well take a look now at what happens on the next step of Dave Brat’s Censorship Ladder by returning to his Facebook page to examine current activity. The “Sara James” like trolls seem to have increased both in number and venom. On the surface it would seem that the attacks are organized, and I suspect that they really are. The venom takes the usual form of name-calling, and in some instances, taking someone’s last name and morphing it into forms that are purposely obscene. Brat has claimed that obscenities have been directed at him but it appears that a constituent who posts any opposition to Brat’s Republican stance is simply getting their “just” reward and are beneath his responsibility to represent. My reason for believing the trolls are organized under Brat is that there have been exchanges when someone posts a comment to Brat that is unflattering or seen as negative; at that point an exchange occurs when the trolls attack the person who commented. There is a trail of comments, then at some point, the original comment the person made remains, but their responses to the replies from the trolls have been deleted. This kind of censorship is intended to discourage posting comments that aren’t favorable to Brat. And, a good question to ask is:
Why does Dave Brat allow his staff to delete constituent comments at will?
Suppression of Voters by Depression of Voters!!!
We can see further expansion of Brat’s Censorship Ladder by taking a further look at this step. If you disagree with Brat, if you ask legitimate questions about policies and positions, if you reference a real news item that contradicts Brat’s position (instead of FoxNews or InfoWars), or interject a meme or that is critical of Brat, Trump, or the Republican Party, then you should get ready to be blocked or have your comment deleted.
Have these things actually happened? Unfortunately, the answer is yes!!
Numerous comments get posted that take issue with Brat’s policies and positions. His Facebook page itself is deceiving because it gives the impression that the comment has been posted – unless you refresh the page and you go back to look at your own comment – you wouldn’t know that the comment was deleted. Depending on the topic, the number of comments, and the identity of the commenter (sometimes specifically targeted), the rate of comment deletion can be as high as 18%. Sometimes comments get deleted after a few weeks even though there hasn’t been any activity during that time, that is – no one has posted additional comments. The question that now comes to my mind changes slightly:
Why would Dave Brat, a Republican Congressman, who is supposed to represent the voters of Virginia’s 7th District be deleting the comments of his constituents? Doesn’t he want to hear from them? Shouldn’t he be taking his responsibility seriously of preserving “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances?”
His Town Hall meetings have been inadequate for communicating with the voters because of his inability to address constructive criticism and legitimate concerns along with his morbid fear of confrontation. He leaves his constituents to the obscurities of his Facebook page with at least one troll guarding each post and waiting to intimidate and delete.
This is what censorship looks like on Dave Brat’s Facebook page.
Voters from the 7th District have a number of concerns. Most of the topics are important but for each constituent one topic may have the highest priority. Racism has been a concern, not only in Virginia, but across the nation. The incidents of verbal and physical assault have been increasing in number and intensity. Since we don’t have Town Hall meetings and are relegated to Dave Brat’s Facebook page “to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” it’s Brat’s duty and responsibility, under the Constitution, to acknowledge the voters’ concerns about racism. Certainly, that’s the least he can do. Since Corey Stewart, who has leanings to and favors White Supremacists, is on the ballot as a Republican candidate for Senator of Virginia. Any mention of that candidacy, with a reference to an article from the Washington Post about him, results in deletion of that comment. Brat hasn’t even had any significant posts about how to reduce violence and discrimination against minorities. He doesn’t do that, but he does delete comments that question his stand on racism.
This is what censorship looks like on Dave Brat’s Facebook page.
A fairly innocuous example of a comment is a simple link to a JPEG file containing a meme. Specifically, there is a meme that is a photograph of a skeleton in a relaxed pose on a park bench. The comment associated with the photo is: “What’s left of the US after Brat and the GOP. No profanity. No bad language of any kind.” There’s sufficient precedence for this type of expressionand the freedom to use it. Simply a meme that is relatively indistinguishable from any other, except that it was posted on Dave Brat’s Facebook page where the constituents of the 7th are provided this venue as the only option “to petition the government for a redress of grievances” and to express their concerns and dissatisfaction any number of ways – including a skeleton sitting on a park bench.
Dave Brat is too sensitive to that kind of material?
Dave Brat is currently the Republican Representative in Congress for the 7th District of Virginia and can’t cope with an innocent meme.
This is how we get censorship on Dave Brat’s Facebook page.
Probably the most sinister activity by Brat extends to yet a higher step in his Censorship Ladder. We all know someone who has more than one Facebook account, and we all know someone who chooses to remain anonymous. There are good reasons for anonymity, and there are a number of nefarious reasons as well. The nefarious would apply to the trolls on Brat’s Facebook page who engage in intimidation tactics against those who dare to question the policies of Dave Brat and the rest of the Republican Party. Having multiple Facebook accounts isn’t unconstitutional or illegal. Supposedly, it’s against Facebook policy, but no one really cares too much about that; besides, that doesn’t rise anywhere near in severity to the censorship that Brat exercises against his constituents who have the right “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” on the only available venue where he’s safe from personal contact. A legitimate and extremely serious question to ask now is: How does Brat know that a constituent has another Facebook account within one hour of its creation?
This goes well beyond censorship. The 4th Amendment states that the “right of the people to be secure in their person, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches ….” In addition to violation of the 1st and 4th Amendments, perhaps we should be looking into violations of the Constitution by Brat – and in his name. Rather than explaining this as extraordinary clairvoyant capabilities, my inclination is to assume the worst, a deliberate violation of the “right of the people to be secure in their person, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches ….” After all, Brat has an excellent track record of abusing the constituents of Virginia’s 7th District. Why not include intruding on and invading their privacy as well?
Those who blindly support the policies of Dave Brat, Donald Trump, and the rest of the Republican Party should be looking behind their backs and wondering whether they will be subjected to the same violations of their Constitutional rights, because it would only be a matter of time. If Brat does it to someone else, you only have to wait a while before he’ll be looking for you. For all the peddling of his Judeo-Christian ethics, I find little evidence that he has any kind of ethics. If you don’t look, you won’t see.
Everyone, Save Your Rights!!