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SC lawmaker unblocks man on Facebook but calls him ‘idiot’

April 1, 2019

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A Republican state lawmaker in South Carolina has stopped blocking one of his frequent critics on Facebook after the man threatened to file a lawsuit claiming the legislator had limited his freedom of speech.

The State newspaper reports that third-term Rep. Neal Collins of Pickens issued a letter Saturday saying he had lifted his block on Allan Quinn. However, Collins described Quinn as an “idiot” and said he will again block Quinn or anyone else whose criticism turns into threats, harassment or profanity.

Collins wrote that he had not suppressed anyone’s speech since Quinn continues to criticize Collins on at least nine Facebook pages nearly every day.

Since being unblocked, Quinn and his attorney, Tom Fernandez, have posted on Collins’ Facebook page, promising to keep comments respectful.

Fernandez told the newspaper on Monday that he is considering suing Collins, anyway, on behalf of another constituent Collins has refused to unblock.

State lawmakers around the U.S. are deciding how to manage social media pages, especially as the courts determine those pages to be modern-day town halls protected by the First Amendment.

If Collins’ case ends with a judge’s ruling, it could help establish precedent, clarifying when and whether it is acceptable for a politician to silence a critic.

A number of South Carolina lawmakers block their constituents on social media, The State reported last month. They contend they should not have to tolerate threats, harassment or profanity. But some have blocked critics whose tweets and Facebook comments didn’t amount to that.

In his letter on Saturday, Collins said he blocked Quinn because of his immaturity and only after warning Quinn several times to obey the rules of his political Facebook page: Be respectful, do not harass, do not threaten and do not swear.

“If social media pages are public forums/town halls, they should be treated as such,” Collins wrote. “Town halls have the same speech limitations.”

Collins wrote that Quinn last week used Facebook to peddle a conspiracy that Collins “endorsed a school board member so that I would have the influence of seven school board members so that I could recruit a Muslim charter school to Pickens County.”

“This logic and many other examples of Mr. Quinn’s requires one to be an idiot, but as your letter states, even idiots are protected by Constitutional rights,” Collins wrote to Fernandez.

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