Monday, June 29, 2015

Help! I'm Attorney General and I Don't Know If my Twitter Account is Public or Private

California Attorney General Kamala Harris needs a lesson in ethical uses of social media for public officials.  She shouldn't be embarrassed, as many public officials are making the same mistake.

Here is a look at the two main accounts you will find associated with Kamala Harris on Twitter:
@KamalaHarris (her private account, has over 39,600 followers)
@CalAGHarris (her public account, has about 5,000 followers)
Note: she has a few other useless ones.

Earlier this month I received a response (see below) to my public records request on the Twitter accounts of Kamala Harris and those of her staff.  I wanted to know how many Twitter users the following accounts were blocking and/or muting (by the way you can submit a request, too):
@KamalaHarris (when I submitted my request I did not know this was a private account, as Ms. Harris does indeed post Tweets to it that are clearly related to her job)
@VenusD_Johnson (a staff member who uses Twitter to post comments related to her public position, the state claims this is a personal account and not subject to open records laws)
@CaAG_HG (account deactivated soon after I submitted my public records request)
@jehabig (a staff member who uses Twitter to post comments related to her public position, the state claims this is a personal account and not subject to open records laws)

 FYI: I edited out my home address.

I included the Twitter accounts of the two staff, Venus Johnson and Jill Habig, because they are both using their position for personal gain by publishing their job information directly to their Twitter profile.  Guess what happens if you associate yourself as working in the state Attorney General's office?  You'll benefit by getting more Twitter activity!  After my request was submitted I did find more staff members that should have been included.

So let's say you are trying to contact Kamala Harris in relation to public business.  You can Google her name and the result looks like this:

See the nice "FeedBack" screen on the right?  See the links to FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram?  Yes, those social media links all direct you to her respective private accounts.  So, if you want to contact her for public reasons I don't suggest going this route.  Even the first website link takes you to her private website.

Just trying to find her public account on Twitter can look overwhelming and, of course, the first result is her private account:

Why does transparency matter?  Let's look at who publishes Kamala Harris's private Twitter account when maybe it's better they stick to publishing her public one:
-News Organizations
-Foundations I guess the 2014 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards and the comment Kamala Harris left had absolutely NOTHING to do with her position as Attorney General and, therefore, it was completely ethical for her to use her private account to submit the comment.
-Some sort of unidentified website that wrote an article promoting Kamala Harris in her position as CA Attorney General, but in which she allowed the publication of her private Twitter account

As Attorney General, Ms. Harris is expected to use her position in a way that does not allow for the private benefit of any sort of personal gain see CA Gov Code 19990-19990.5.  I'd say she and her staff gain plenty by entitling themselves to discuss public business on private Twitter accounts.  Also, when it starts getting reported on various websites and publications that I can contact a public official at a certain Twitter handle I begin to believe I'm being directed to their public account.  However, should I make a comment on Ms. Harris's private account that she doesn't approve of she can block me from further viewing or responding to her Tweets.

However, if Ms. Harris is going to post Tweets on her private account that should otherwise be published to her public one, then her private account becomes subject to the Public Records Act.  Public officials can't have it both ways.  They can't privately Tweet information that should be open and available to the public.

If I am going to pick up a copy of the Spring 2015 CalAppNews newsletter in which they want to suggest to me that I follow on Twitter the state's Attorney General, then I want to know that I'm being driven to her public account and not her private one.  I do not want to be directed to an account that allows her the privilege of blocking or muting me.  Thankfully, as you can read in the response to my public records request that, at the very least, the public@CalAGHarris account does not currently block or mute anyone.

Now, if I can get Governor Jerry Brown to respond to his public records request.