Friday, May 19, 2017

Compton Mayor Fails to Provide Honest Response to my Public Records Request

If you haven't visited my Government Block Lists Revealed blog yet, I highly recommend it.  For the past two years I've been submitting public records requests to various public officials and government agencies nationwide regarding who they block and mute from their Twitter accounts and I post the more interesting results to that blog.  The requests have evolved over time to reflect the new features that Twitter continues to add to their platform and my requests now includes other platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Flickr, and Nextdoor, to name a few.

On March 2, 2017 the California Supreme Court released their opinion in the case of City of San Jose v. Superior Court (Smith).  For me, this was a huge decision.  The Court found that when a public official uses a private email account to conduct the public's business then those emails are subject to the California Public Records Act (CPRA).  I went into high gear and started submitting public records requests to a number of public officials in the state and made a point to submit requests to officials who had previously declined my request in the past by claiming their social media accounts were personal.

Over the two years that I have been doing this I have reviewed countless social media accounts of public officials.  From my own analysis very few public officials maintain social media accounts in a manner that would qualify as a truly "personal" account.  Most public officials use social media as a way to engage with their constituents and this is exactly what I try to point out on my Government Block Lists Revealed blog.

Last month I requested the Twitter block and mute list of Aja Brown, who is the Mayor of Compton.  Her office responded that there were no records responsive to my request.  I am blocked by her Twitter account, so the response to my request is false.  However, in 2016 she responded to the same request by stating that her Twitter account was personal.  I think she would have a hard time defending that argument in court when she posts things like:




I just released my 3-Year Progress Report #VisionForCompton. Read it here: https://t.co/dZkHKDlMIc #LetsFinishTheWork #Compton #Millennial
— AjaBrown (@AjaLBrown) April 11, 2017




In this example she posts a public statement using the City of Compton's official logo:

If you view her @AjaLBrown Twitter account you'll notice that not only does she use it to communicate about the public's business, but also to campaign with:




No, her Twitter account is hardly personal, it is an absolute mess.  The Compton mayor looks like a great candidate for someone to come along and file a petition for a writ of mandate to make her comply with the CPRA.  I filed on last month against the City of San Mateo.  Today the matter has been settled.  The City of San Mateo agreed to my requests regarding their own social media use and the San Mateo mayor has unblocked and unmuted accounts he had previously been blocking and muting on Twitter.  The San Mateo mayor also agreed to release a full listing of the accounts he had been blocking and muting.  You can submit your own public records request to the San Mateo mayor if you care to see who was on the list.

Not all mayors want to share the list of people they block or mute.  I had to file a writ just to see the San Mateo mayor's list.  Even Compton Mayor Aja Brown has shown she's not eager to share this information, however, when she utilizes her Twitter account to discuss the public's business then people have a right to know who is being blocked or muted by her.

That CA Supreme Court ruling I previously mentioned helped lay the groundwork on this issue.  You have the right to know what kind of information public officials are conducting from a privately maintained account.

Remember the Podesta email WikiLeaks?  Well, one email shed some light on an interesting detail.  Mayor Brown has an email account that you'll find on the Compton City webpage (ContactMayor@comptoncity.org), but WikiLeaks also showed that she has two others that she may be using to conduct the public's business (ajabrown@me.com and ajabrown@comptoncity.org).  So, if you feel like submitting a public records request to Mayor Brown, feel free to inquire about all the email accounts she uses. 

And if you request to see who she blocks, mutes, or bans from her social media accounts and your request is denied, then fee free to petition the court for a writ of mandate.  I did it and it worked for me...and I just might do it again!








Wednesday, May 3, 2017

City of San Jose Makes Crucial Mistake of Posting Link to Nextdoor's Log In Page

I noticed recently that the City of San Jose has a web page dedicated to the various social media links maintained by the City http://www.sanjoseculture.org/index.aspx?NID=2425.

Currently, when you visit the site this is what you see:



You'll notice at the top of the page that the City is "connecting with neighborhoods through the Nextdoor social network."  However, upon further investigation I noticed two glaring mistakes.  The first one is that the City provides a link to Nextdoor's sign in page and not directly to the City's Nextdoor account.  This would leave visitors to the City's web page into believing that they would need to create a Nextdoor account in order to view the City's posts.  This is absolutely misleading.  You do NOT need to create a Nextdoor account in order to access public records, nor should you ever have to (at least in the state of California).

The California Public Records Act (CPRA) has a section that governs intermediaries like Nextdoor, Twitter, Facebook, etc.  Section 6253.3 of the CPRA states that "[a] state or local agency may not allow another party to control the disclosure of information that is otherwise subject to disclosure pursuant to this chapter." 

There is no doubt that the City's Nextdoor account is subject to the CPRA, as it is an account maintained by the City and is meant to communicate with the public about issues related to the City.  A social media platform like Nextdoor cannot make people who wish to view records subject to the CPRA hand over all sorts of personal information in order to create an account for that platform. (Nextdoor makes you verify your address by providing them with your personal information https://help.nextdoor.com/customer/portal/articles/805357).

For example, you do not need a Twitter account in order to read what your state representative Tweets.  You can read what they Tweet, but the draw back is that won't be able to further engage in comments with them on Twitter, nor will you be able to see who they Follow and who their Followers are if you are not an account holder.  Yet, when the City provides a link to only the sign in page of a social media platform then it can make it look like that platform is trying to control access to what is otherwise a public record.

It was only after I did further Google searching that I realized there was a second mistake with the City's Nextdoor link.  The City of San Jose actually has two different Nextdoor accounts, which is not obvious when viewing their Social Media Center web page.  You can visit these two accounts without having to create a Nextdoor account:
The City of San Jose Nextdoor Account
San Jose City Council Nextdoor Account

The important thing to remember is that if your public official or agency is going to share information on a social media platform then there should be very little in the way of your access to viewing it.

Sadly, the City of Mountain View makes the same mistake, too.  Visit their social media web page , click on the two Nextdoor links provided, and you'll notice this:


I'm sure if I cared to look further I'd discover other cities making the same misleading mistake.

If you care to see the City of Mountain View's Nextdoor accounts you can go here:
City of Mountain View Nextdoor Account
City of Mountain View Police Department's Nextdoor Account


UPDATE:
As of May 5th I noticed that the City of Mountain View changed how they link to Nextdoor and the links will now take you directly to the account in question.  The City of San Jose's link still goes to Nextdoor's sign in page.

However, the City of Mountain View didn't make this change without a fight:



Yes, they really tweeted these asinine comments.



Friday, November 11, 2016

Twitter's Double Standard Spam Filter

Did you know that if you post multiple tweets containing similar content (I have found that this is generally 4 or more in a row) that Twitter will begin to filter any new duplicate tweets as spam?

The sad irony is that election season is a great time to test Twitter's spam filter to see who's tweets didn't make the cut.  Once Twitter decides a tweet is spam that tweet is no longer searchable and, according to the results of my most recent CA Legislative Open Records Act request, you can tweet your state representatives telling them how you would like them to vote, but don't count on your representative being notified that you were trying to tweet them.

My previous blog post showed how the California Nurse-Midwives Association and a number of their Twitter supporters had their tweets regarding Assembly Bill 1306 censored as spam on Twitter and that the representatives they posted their tweets to did not receive any notification that they were mentioned in the tweets.  This is much like your gmail account failing to deliver email to your public official based on the discretion of Google.

Keep in mind that when you mention someone in a tweet you see a confirmation that "your tweet was sent" or "your tweet was posted."  This is nothing short of fraud for Twitter to tell you one thing and then not follow through with it.

So, what makes election season a good time to test Twitter's spam filter is that lots of elected officials have a Twitter account and if you are a group that wants to promote your favored candidate you can easily fall into a spam-trap.  The 140 character limit also helps increase the odds because what happens is that it's easy to copy and paste a repetitive message as opposed to composing a whole new tweet for each individual.

So, let's compare repetitive messages posted by the @CA_Dem and @TxValuesAction accounts.  What I discovered with my sample below is that none of the tweets posted by the @CA_Dem account are censored, but all of tweets posted by the @TxValuesAction account are.  For @TxValuesAction, I did not include the uncensored tweets posted in the series of repetitive tweets.

In another previous blog I discuss how to find a censored account, but in this instance neither account is censored, only selective tweets are.  See the blog if you want to know more about searching for censored Twitter content.


@CA_Dem Tweets:


























@TxValuesAction Tweets:












Repetitive tweeting looks like it's okay depending on the account that posts it.  I see no reason why one account would have their tweets filtered as spam, but not the other.  Also, if my previous LORA request is any indication, the @TxValuesAction posted a lot of congratulatory tweets that were never delivered to their intended recipient.



Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Public Records Request Reveals Twitter Censors Political Speech

Last month I posted a blog about how Twitter Censors "Spam" Posted by the California Nurse-Midwives Association and yesterday I finally received even more disturbing proof of what Twitter actually does.

If you didn't read the blog then let me give you a brief overview.  A few months back the California Nurse-Midwives Association (@CalMidwives) tweeted their support of Assembly Bill 1306 by using the #AB1306 hashtag.  In a following blog I explained how The California Democratic Party Twitter Account Gets Away with Posting Spam when organizations like the @CalMidwives had their tweets promoting the passage of specific legislation censored.

I knew that the @CalMidwives had repetitive tweets censored, most likely as spam, yet, the @CA_Dem account engaged in the same activity, but their tweets failed to get censored.

And just to make things further convoluted for you, I knew from a previous open records request that a person tweeting from a censored Twitter account may tag people, like their local police department,  in a tweet, but the tagged account may not get a notification about it.  For example, the account of ACLU lawyer @carltonwilliams is currently censored (and has been for some time).



I found a tweet Mr. Williams sent to the Revere Police Department and I asked if the @reverepolice was notified of the tweet.  They were not.
Knowing that the @CalMidwives had a number of censored tweets tagging and/or mentioning members of both the California Assembly and Senate, I submitted a public records request to those individuals.  There were many censored tweets and numerous elected officials to choose from.  I decided to narrow down my requests to members of the California Tech Caucus.

Yesterday I received the response to my request in regards to members of the California Assembly.  You will notice that it wasn't only the CNMA that was caught up in the Twitter-spam-filter-mess, but also some of their supporters like @karenrubybrown and @JonathanBartle8.

These are the tweets I inquired about and the results I got:
Request: I would like to know if Twitter notified the @JimPatterson559 account that this tweet was sent.
Result: No notification received.

Request: I would like to know if Twitter notified the @ScottWilkCA account that this tweet was sent.
Result: No notification received.

Request: I would like to know if Twitter notified the @asmMelendez and @AsmL2Chang accounts that this tweet was sent.
Result: The Melendez account is personal and Chang did not receive any notification.


Request: I would like to know if Twitter notified the @jacquiirwin and @MattDababneh accounts that this tweet was sent.
Result: The Irwin account is personal and Dababneh did not receive any notification.


Request: I would like to know if Twitter notified the @NoraCamposCA and @Evan_Low account that this tweet was sent.
Result: The Campos account did not receive any notification and the Low account is personal.


Sadly, if you thought that Twitter was a great way to promote your ballot measure, political campaign, or agenda you are mistaken.  These people thought they were tweeting their elected representatives and that there was a possibility those representatives would read their message.  The only problem is that their tweets ended up censored and the accounts being tagged failed to received any notification from Twitter that they were being mentioned.

So go ahead, feel free to tweet the members of your state legislature.  Just don't tweet them something that gets filtered out as spam.













Friday, November 4, 2016

The California Democratic Party Twitter Account Gets Away with Posting Spam

The Equality California Twitter account, @eqca, has posted tweets that shows how Twitter is censoring their tweets, but not similar tweets posted by the California Democratic Party Twitter account, @CA_Dem.  However, Twitter didn't always consider the @eqca tweets to be spam.

On October 24, 2016 the @eqca posted a series of tweets that ended up being censored because (my best guess) they were filtered as spam.  I've posted a previous blog about how Twitter Censors "Spam" Posted by the California Nurse-Midwives Association and the tweets posted by the @eqca look like they have fallen into the same trap.  The problem is that the tweets are posted within a short time period and contain the same or similar text.

Here are some of the tweets the @eqca posted that are censored:





I won't post all 135 of the tweets here.  They all look much the same.  Of the 135 tweets, 127 of them ended up being censored (by this I mean that the tweets are unsearchable on Twitter).

For example, I know the tweet mentioning @AsmAutumnBurke is censored because when I search the text I get no results:


What I also know is that there is a very HIGH chance that Twitter did not notify the tagged account that they were mentioned in the censored tweet.  The response I received to a recent public records request regarding a known censored account indicated something peculiar.  I knew that the account of @CarltonWilliams was censored.  So, I found a tweet where he had tagged the @reverepolice.  Knowing I could expect a response submitted to a police department, I submitted a public records request asking the Revere Police if there account received a notification that they were mentioned in the tweet posted by Mr. Williams.

This is the public records request I submitted and the response I got:




So, an ACLU lawyer is censored on Twitter and if he tweets a public agency that agency will have no clue he was talking about them on Twitter.  Um, Wow!  I didn't know that was how Twitter and free speech were supposed to work.  That's like Google not liking my "police" searches and deciding I shouldn't be allowed to email my local police.

I have submitted a public records request to Assembly Member Burke and a few others to see if they received notification of the censored tweet posted by the @eqca.

But here's the funny thing, doing an advanced Twitter search for tweets sent by the @eqca account using the text "We're proud to endorse" posted during the year 2014 yielded 15 related tweets:


I have not had the time to scroll all the way back to 2014 on the @eqca timeline to see if they actually posted more tweets than are showing up in the results, but keep in mind that by 2016 they only got away with posting 8 searchable endorsement tweets.

Here's a few more unlucky accounts who fell into the same Twitter-spam-trap:




But here's the sad part for Equality California and their @eqca Twitter account.  As recently as November 1st the @CA_Dem Twitter account engaged in the same type of tweeting behavior, but somehow their tweets managed to not get filtered as spam:

For example,
This tweet is searchable and 9 others just like it were posted the same day:

So, somehow a series of similar tweets posted by the @CA_Dem are not spam, while a series of similar tweets posted by @eqca@EQILPAC@EqualityNewYork@ELMActionFund, and the @CalMidwives are.  We should all be asking ourselves how we are to know what gets censored as spam and what does not and Twitter should be transparent about it.