On Jan. 9 of this year, I got a good lesson in sensitivity. When I had some downtime, I pulled up the Facebook link for The Coalition To Stop Gun Violence (CSGV), a political action committee that pushes various gun control initiatives. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m opposed to gun control, but I regularly study their Facebook anyway – “know thy opponent,” you could say.
On this day, I pulled it up to find that there was a new cover photo for CSGV’s Facebook. It featured what I found to be an ignorant, arrogant, and offensive quote from American University communications professor Leonard Steinhorn, which read, in part, “The issue, really, is why so many white, middle-American men view any effort to regulate firearms as an assault on their very identity, and thus fight sane and rational laws as if their lives and liberties were at stake.”
Okay, let’s play pretend here: What if Steinhorn, from his politically correct cocoon in Northwest D.C., used a term other than “white middle-American men” to describe what he saw as an “issue?” What if he said that “urban black men” or “lower-class women” were at the root of the issue? Al Sharpton and Gloria Allred would be at his throat, to say the least.
My conscience wouldn’t let me let this offensive luggage slide through unchecked. I replied to this photo: “CSGV, I think you would get more supporters to your cause if you didn’t post ignorant quotes like this.”
By the stroke of midnight, Jan. 10, my comment had been deleted, and I was prohibited from posting on the CSGV page.
It only took me a moment to realize that I’d been banned from a Facebook page for expressing an opposing viewpoint. I couldn’t help but pause. Isn’t this America? I thought. Isn’t one of the most important cornerstones of our country the free exchange of opinion?
I e-mailed CSGV and was placed in touch with Ladd Everitt, the organization’s communications director. On Jan. 10, I asked him if CSGV ever ban or censor anyone from their Facebook, but as of this writing have not received a reply.
Normally, by now, I would just admit defeat. But I did something that few others get to do: I tried again, this time with my press badge visible.
I managed to get a hold of Josh Horwitz, CSGV’s executive director. Horwitz, a public health professor at Johns Hopkins University who periodically writes about gun control for The Huffington Post, told me that people have been banned from CSGV’s Facebook. Addressing me directly, he said that CSGV’s Facebook is “not a forum for you. It’s a forum I maintain for my supporters. It’s our Facebook. I am completely entitled to ban people from our Facebook.”
I pressed, “CSGV is an organization that’s engaged in political debate. Don’t you want to engage in that discussion?”
He answered that he discusses gun control with opponents all the time, but CSGV’s Facebook is “not the public town square.” Then he addressed me directly again, “It’s like you writing your column. Do I get half your column?”
Our conversation lasted for roughly nine minutes before the line abruptly terminated. I suspect he hung up, but I admit that I can’t know for certain.
I decided to measure the CSGV Facebook against those of two major gun rights groups: Gun Owners of America (GOA) and the National Rifle Association (NRA). I searched through both Facebook profiles and found multiple posts that expressed support for gun control – none of which were deleted.
Okay, look, Mr. Horwitz had a point: CSGV’s Facebook page is their personal property, and there are no laws that mandate that they give airtime to those who want to negate their arguments. Fine. But it strikes me as contradictory to the goals of political activism to not even research what others are saying.
CSGV keeps opponents off of their page so supporters can come and receive confirmation about how they already feel. It becomes a round table for gun control “yes men.” To me, any political action committee that operates like this should reconsider being in the rough and tumble world of politics – a world where you have to stand and fight against those who challenge you.