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Let's consider what happened this week. On Tuesday, a lot of us at the Committee Dashboard and at Daily Kos were watching the livefeed of a hearing held by the House Oversight and Government Reform (GROC) Subcommittee on TARP, Financial Services and Bailouts of Public and Private Programs.
The hearing, ironically titled "Who's Watching the Watchmen" was atypically personal and hostile. Those who routinely tune in to these hearings (something you can do easily through our own Committee Dashboard, the very tool we used to capture the now viral video of Chairman Patrick Henry calling Elizabeth Warren a liar) will tell you how out of the ordinary this was. Hearings typically involve heated debate and rhetoric, but the level of hostility on Tuesday was something else. The final minutes topped off the hour of questioning with Chairman McHenry's now famous accusation.
After the hearing, hundreds if not thousands of people flocked to both the subcommittee Chairman's and the GROC Republicans' Facebook pages to express their thoughts and concerns. McHenry's wall continues to get flooded with comments, at times one every fifteen seconds. The GROC staff and members should be applauding those folks for being engaged citizens. Instead of responding and having a conversation with those folks, the GROC Republicans simply posted this picture and childish comment... three times to really hammer it home! Rather quickly, numerous substantive, reasonable comments were deleted and several people were banned from ever commenting there again.
Think about that for a second. Many folks, after expressing concerns over the treatment of Elizabeth Warren during an Oversight committee hearing, can never again leave comments for the House Oversight and Government Reform Republicans Facebook page. Never again (on a facepook page where the welcome screen literally encourages you to "Speak Out!", although to be fair, it does imply that they only want to hear from "job creators"). Banned because we actually participated in a part of the governing process that often goes unnoticed. Banned for speaking out about something that CNN, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and well, basically everyone picked up on. That is how absurd the last couple of days have become.
After two nights of grabbing screen shots and copying comments so we could republish deleted ones on our blog (hop on over to check out the fun!), we decided to take a different route. So we established the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Free Speech Zone on Facebook. And we linked the "notifications" rss feed from that page with a twitter account, cutely named @HouseGROC. Every 30 minutes, the twitter feed will publish the most recent notifications with one caveat: they'll all be addressed to the twitter account of the Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Darrell Issa. This workaround to communicate with the committee leader through Facebook can act as a refuge for users who were banned by the GROC Republicans, or anyone just sick and tired of seeing their comments routinely deleted.
As a transparency organization situated at the center of this little kerfuffle, we felt it was the least we could do.
Lastly, our own communications director was banned after commenting on them deleting comments. Literally.