Professor says he was threatened by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry's Chief of Staff over Facebook like

Published: Nov. 2, 2018 at 9:08 PM CDT
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University of Nebraska professor Ari Kohen said he was singled out and threatened after liking a photo on Facebook. The photo shows a defaced campaign sign for Rep. Jeff Fortenberry.

"It isn't high bar comedy, but it was silly and I got a chuckle out if it, so I hit like," Kohen said.

Kohen was out of town at a conference for work when he liked the photo.

"I did that on Sunday, on a personal cell phone on my personal Facebook account," Kohen said. "Then on Monday and Tuesday I was at the conference. Wednesday and Thursday I taught my classes and just tried to play catch up so I didn't check my voicemail."

In his voicemail box were several missed calls from Rep. Fortenberry's Chief of Staff, Dr. Reyn Archer. After he was unable to reach Kohen, Archer also reached out to the Political Science department chair.

"I got a message from the head of my department and so then I returned Dr. Archer's call," Kohen said. "I had absolutely no idea what this was going to be about, but I tried to prepare myself for the call."

Originally, Kohen said, he thought the call would be about a tweet of Fortenberry's that he had retweeted with a comment.

"He had tweeted something about the vandalism and likened it to terrorism at a time when people were getting pipe bombs mailed to their house and I replied and said, 'Those two things are not even close to the same thing.' I mean, they're both bad, but not bad in the same way," Kohen said.

When he did get on the phone with Archer, he was surprised it was about a Facebook like. Kohen said he was not sure what Archer's mission was with the call.

"They didn't seem to want me to unlike it," Kohen said. "They didn't seem to want me to apologize. He began by saying he respected the First Amendment and free speech rights but he was clearly really unhappy and he kept suggesting that I like vandalism because I liked a photo of a campaign sign with googly eyes on it."

Kohen said he tried to clarify his position that "liking something on Facebook is not the same as liking that thing."

"I could like a photo of Henry VIII on Facebook but that doesn't make me a monarchist," Kohen said. "But he didn't seem to fully understand that. And I didn't understand his position as well as he wanted me to."

At a campaign stop today, Rep. Fortenberry addressed the situation.

"I'm particularly sensitive to it because my own home has been vandalized," Fortenberry said. "It scared my children. We have a growing problem with this in Lincoln and I think it's up to community leaders, whether it be myself or someone at the University, to elevate that discussion."

Fortenberry said he wants to sit down with Kohen and have an open discussion. Kohen has invited the congressman to speak with his political science classes at the University of Nebraska.