Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at 2:31 p.m.
Rep. Frank Artiles
Courtesy of Florida House/Mark Foley
Miami State Sen. Frank Artiles is swimming in some boiling-hot water after accepting nearly $2,000 in gifts from Florida Power & Light before rapidly advancing pro-FPL bills in his committee.
But don’t criticize Artiles online — he’ll probably end up blocking you.
According to a public-records request filed by an amateur First Amendment advocate, Artiles has blocked roughly 400 people on Facebook — a massive number in an age when access to social media is increasingly viewed as a right afforded to all Americans. Politicians’ social media block lists have sparked multiple lawsuits and public-records battles in recent years, from suits against police departments in California and Hawaii to legal battles over Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine’s own, seemingly extensive (and still secret) Twitter block list.
Artiles did not respond to New Times‘ phone call to his office yesterday afternoon, so it’s unknown who’s running his account or what motivated the Facebook shutdowns. But many of the people blocked appear to be liberal or left-wing users. Many of those he has blocked have profile pictures of LGBT flags, communist symbols, or Democratic insignias. Artiles even blocked the page Being Liberal, which simply posts left-wing memes and articles.
But the state senator will likely regret one Facebook block more than others: Artiles shut down local activist and journalist Grant Stern — the man suing Levine over the mayor’s Twitter block list.
Stern demanded the state senator unblock him and all 400 others.
“Artiles just admitted he is censoring me,” Stern says. “I give him every opportunity to correct his error. There’s no need for legal action right now — legal action is for when people break law and commit acts of censorship, but refuse to correct themselves.”
Stern says blocking people on Facebook is even worse than censoring folks on Twitter, because politicians typically use Facebook to announce more in-depth information than they do via tweets.
Stern says he has never interacted with Artiles in public or private — just a few times on the internet in 2015 after Artiles proposed an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” in Florida, which would have forced trans people to use the bathroom corresponding to their birth gender.
“I might have called him the ‘bathroom cop’ for proposing one of those laws,” Stern says. “That was a discriminatory bill, and it was also a job-killer: North Carolina passed a law like that, and it totally destroyed their tourism industry overnight.”
Stern adds that because Artiles is a lawyer, he “should have known better.”
Courts have repeatedly ruled that elected officials who discuss public matters on social media accounts are not allowed to block people or delete posts they don’t like, because those pages are used to disseminate public information. Courts have also ruled that politicians’ social accounts become public records once they use those pages to discuss official business.
Angela Greben, the activist who uncovered the block list (and shared it with New Times), says she wasn’t particularly looking to shame anyone. Instead, Greben says, she simply files records requests for block lists around the nation. About a month ago, she asked a records agent in the Florida Senate for every politician’s social media block list, and only Sens. Aaron Bean, Rob Bradley, Jeff Brandes, Oscar Braynon, Dorothy Hukill, Bill Montford, Wilton Simpson, and Artiles replied.
“It was really just a fishing expedition,” Greben said via phone yesterday. “There were a number of senators who said they ‘didn’t have any records responsive.’ I take that as them saying, ‘I’m not blocking anyone.'”
Greben, a paralegal by day, told New Times last October that she files these requests as a hobby, after she got blocked by a politician herself. Now, she posts her results on her Twitter feed, in an attempt to expand the limits of First-Amendment law in the age of the web.
“Even though Twitter is kind of hurting right now, the way public officials use social media is going to have lasting effects on society,” Greben said in October. “If we accept certain behaviors from public officials now, it’s going to be harder to correct them in the future.”
Instead of trying to reach Artiles on social-media, Greben instead encourages people to just call his office line.