Missouri residents who have been blocked from posting opinions on Gov. Eric Greitens' social media accounts said they are frustrated the governor apparently doesn't want to hear opinions from those who challenge or disagree with him.
The extent to which people have been blocked from the governor's social media accounts is hard to determine. In August, the Columbia Missourian filed an open records request to determine if Greitens was blocking users, to obtain records of direct messages and to get information related to the accounts' creation. When Greitens' office refused to provide the information, the newspaper filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Office.
In response to the Missourian's records request, Greitens' office argued the Facebook and Twitter accounts used by the governor are not considered official state accounts because they were created before Greitens took office. The question of whether Greitens' original accounts were personal or public has not been resolved. No case law in Missouri addresses when public officials can block users on social media.
Greitens has continued to hold Facebook Live town hall-like sessions on his unofficial page, EricGreitens, rather than on the new Governor Greitens page. The official page is governed by guidelines that specify what actions can get a user blocked, and challenging the governor or his policies is not among them.
Being blocked from a virtual town hall meeting is the same as being denied entrance to an actual town hall forum, said Jean Maneke, attorney for the Missouri Press Association.
"I truly believe that any time a public official uses social media accounts to discuss public business, it's an official action of a public official, and that creates Sunshine Law implications for that account," Maneke said. "I believe the governor's Facebook account is a record of a public official."
Greitens' spokesman, Parker Briden, disagreed. He said even if users can't ask questions during the town hall, they can hear what the governor is saying.
Patsy Roach, 54, is a union member who strongly opposes right-to-work laws, which Greitens supports. She said she was blocked after frequently posting a single puking emoji when the subject came up on Greitens' Facebook page. Someone from the governor's office told her she was blocked for posting the emoji, she said.
"This is censorship and it's wrong," Roach wrote in a letter to Greitens' office. "I am scared we are going down a dark path and the end result won't be pretty."
Alma Gayle, 58, said she was blocked after posting on Greitens' Facebook page a few times a week, usually on issues related to right-to-work and campaign donations. She often included a link to a video critical of Greitens' time as a Navy SEAL.
"You're supposed to be my governor, too" Gayle said. "The way things are now, social media is like another way to get your message to your public servant — and that's what he is. He's our employee."