Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Today's #SpotTheUnlawfulActivity AKA Twitter's Cashtag Problem

I wanted to bring up the issue of how the confusion over creating a public versus a private account has suddenly become more obvious now that Twitter allows for candidates to use their account to raise campaign funds with the new Cashtag feature.

There is nothing particularly wrong with Hillary Clinton's campaign account.  However, there is something very wrong when public officials start using her Twitter handle to communicate to her or about her from their own public Twitter accounts.


A public office or communications (i.e. a Twitter account) paid with public funds are never to be used to support an individual running for office.  Knowing this, I found the following tweets posted from public accounts: 

Here is another example, one post comes from the private account of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, the other comes from his public account.  Only one of these is permissible.  See if you can #SpotTheUnlawfulActivity:



Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Twitter Account Term Limits

There's a common theme when serving in a position of public trust and that is that you don't take advantage of your position or title for personal gain.  This means not just financial gain, but also any kind of gain pertaining to right or privilege.  I would argue this also includes the Twitter following you stand to gain when you serve in public office.

We all know that a position of elected office is not an honor you are born with, but something you have to campaign for.  You accept that position with an understanding that you server for a specified term and then your term is over and, depending on the term limits, you might be able to run for re-election or you can move on.

What's interesting is how these Twitter accounts that should have otherwise "died" continue to be used after the account holder has left office.

Retired US Senator Tom Harkin nicely illustrates what a Twitter account that has reached the end of its term might ideally look like:

Harkin even included his farewell speech, but what's important is that nothing was posted after his final day in office, which was on January 3, 2015.  You wouldn't find it acceptable for Harkin or any other elected official to continue using government letterhead to send written communications after leaving office or for them to sneak into their old office to use the phone to make phone calls?  Well, that's what is happening with the public Twitter accounts they create.

For example, US Representative Ron Paul posted a few tweets after his final day in office on January 3, 2013.  He wanted to inform readers how to follow him on his private @RonPaul:

Unfortunately, not all elected officials are so wise about the use of their public account.  Here's a list of just a few people I've noticed that created a Twitter account to be used in their official capacity, but continued to use that same account despite the fact they are no longer serving in that position:

@SenCarlLevin - US Senator from Michigan (1979-2015)
@Jim_Moran - US Congressman from Virginia (1991-2015)
@GabbyGiffords - US Representative from Arizona (2007-2012)
@villaraigosa - Mayor of Los Angeles (2005-2013)
@mayormcginn - Mayor of Seattle (2010-2014)
@GregNickels - Mayor of Seattle (2002-2010)
@DaveEHeineman - Governor of Nebraska (2005-2015)
@VincentIgnizio - New York City Council Member (2007-7/2015)

Special recognition goes to:
Former Governor of Maryland Martin O'Malley!

@GovernorOMalley served as Governor of Maryland from 2007-2015.  He's currently running for President and he's also benefiting from the same public @GovernorOMalley Twitter account he used while in office.  Look closely and you will notice that he has deleted his entire tweet history and unfollowed any users he may have been following from his public account.  Visitors to the page are instructed to visit @MartinOMalley, which is his current Presidential campaign account.


It's disturbing that O'Malley would delete his entire tweet history. The @GovernorOMalley account was public and the tweets he posted were his to create, but not to destroy.  Visit this link to learn more about the state of Maryland's Public Information Act.

I found it interesting that  during the time O'Malley served as Governor The White House Blog site repeatedly published his private @MartinOMalley account in several government blogs:

President Obama Joins Elected Officials and Student Leaders to Urge #DontDoubleMyRate 
President Obama Delivers Remarks on Immigration 
What They're Saying: The President's Action on Cuba Policy

I would advise the White House staff that it's best to use the public contact information of an elected representative in official government publications.

For further evidence of O'Malley's misuse of Twitter I've provided a examples of how Governor O'Malley used his private @MartinOMalley account to post public tweets all while serving in office:

If you are one of the people that questioned Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server to conduct official business, then you should also be questioning why a public official would use a private Twitter account to reach out to constituents.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Responses to my Public Records Requests

I'd like to congratulate the following public officials and agencies who responded to my open records request that they were not blocking or muting any users on Twitter:

@louisvillemayor - Mayor Fischer deserves special recognition for keeping a clean block and mute list in light of a recent tweet he posted that may have earned him a few unwanted comments.


A special thanks goes out to Marni Sawicki, Mayor of Cape Coral, FL, @MayorSawicki, for noting in her response to my request that, "[her] account is open to anyone to respond or comment."

Other elected officials with a clean block and mute list include:


The following individuals sent me their block/mute list:

@JerryBrownGov see list
@FLGovScott see list
@TXAG see list
@BilldeBlasio see list
@JohnCranley  see list
@MayorEdMurray see list
@MayorSRB  see list
@ceasarcmitchell  see list
Multiple San Francisco Police Department Accounts see lists
@FBCSO  see list
@Atlanta_Police  see list
@OCSD  see list
@GBJimSchmitt  see list
@oaklandpoliceca  see list

The following individuals maintain their account is private, but shared with me that they do not block or mute other Twitter users:

"Please note that the @waynemessam Twitter account is a personal account where I share personal and city updates. The account is open to All followers and there are no Blocked or Muted users of the account. Anyone in the public should have the ability to view my Tweets."
@kathietovo  see details

The following individuals maintain their account is private:

@AnniseParker  see details
@SusanHaynieBoca  see details
@MayorHodges  see details
@MickCornett  see details
@MayorLevine see details
@edbraddy  see details
@ArtAcevedo  see details

The following individuals deserve special mention for their inability to appropriately respond to my request:

@CharlieLathamJB image too small

@SanDiegoPD  misleading response - see details
@sppdPIO misleading response - see details
@SheriffClarke misleading response below (if they have an account, they have a records with 0 or more people on it)

I'm still waiting for a response from the following individuals:


Sunday, September 27, 2015

How to Play #SpotTheUnlawfulActivity

Spotting unlawful activity on Twitter is easy!

Visit the "public" Twitter account of your favorite elected official.  Recognizing the difference between their public account versus their private (a.k.a. campaign) account can sometimes be tricky because many times the elected official isn't familiar with differentiating between a PUBLIC tweet versus a PRIVATE tweet.

What happens is you get mistakes like these:

In this example, the public Twitter account for the Texas Attorney General's Office, @TXAG, links to the private (campaign) account for Ken Paxton, @KenPaxtonTX.

Here, the Peace Corps, an agency of the US federal government, allows for the use of the @PCOIG Twitter account to RT Senator Rand Paul's campaign account.

You will also see a number of retired elected officials still using the same account that they used while in office.

@SenCarlLevin - Senator Levin's last day serving in Congress was 1/3/2015, but he still uses his account.

This is just a sample of the kinds of unlawful activity you'll find your elected officials engaging in on Twitter.  I encourage you to RT examples of unlawful activity you come across by using the #SpotTheUnlawfulActivity hashtag!

It's Banned Twitter Feeds Week 2015!

Welcome To My Banned Twitter Feeds Week 2015!
Sunday, September 27 - Saturday, October 3

Thank you for being a part of Banned Twitter Feeds Week 2015!  Let me explain what this event is all about.  Several months ago I became aware of the issue of public officials engaging in Twitter blocking as a means of censorship when I was blocked by my own city official.  I sent a tweet to the San Jose Director of Cultural Affairs, Kerry Adams Hapner, asking her to not support wage theft in the arts.  She didn't like the tweet and blocked me from her account.  I filed an ethics complaint, but the city denied any wrongdoing by claiming that Adams Hapner was using a private Twitter account.  You can read more about this incident here.

However, it was this experience that initiated a wider search for other people on Twitter to see who they were claiming to be blocked by.  My search included actions by government officials, agencies, and businesses that were places of public accommodation (i.e. not an online retailer).  At first I thought I would find complaints about business unfairly blocking people, but that wasn't the case at all.  I found that many complaints were indeed about public officials, yet I was seeing complaints from countries far and wide that celebrate free speech and open government.

These tweets bothered me and as I read more I began asking more and more questions.  Why are open records laws being abused?  Why is it that someone can be blocked by their governor or mayor and not know why?   What is the blocked person's recourse for action?  Why are people willing to accept this practice?  I began to retweet these complaints and before long I had quite a collection of Twitter complaints.  At that point I knew I had to make a Redress Dress.
This is my Redress Dress!

The dress is based on the First Amendment of the US Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I've previously blogged about the issue of public officials using social media, but here's the takeaway message:
To put things into perspective, the First Amendment of the US Constitution gives you the right to redress your government for grievances.  There is nothing mentioned [in the Constitution] about how this can or should be done.  You can telephone, email, FaceBook, stone carve, carrier pigeon (if the public office you are contacting has a pigeon service), or Tweet your public official your grievance and as a public servant they are to accept it.  The US Supreme Court has ruled that no government entity has to respond to the grievance, see Minn. Bd. Commun. for Colleges v. Knight, 465 U.S. 271 (1984).
But really the issue is even bigger than our US Constitution.  The issue revolves around democracy.  Democracies are to be inclusive of all people regardless if they are idiots, gnomes, taxpayers, creeps, or people with questionable political affiliations.  Democracies are to be transparent and accountable to the people they serve.  How can a social media platform like Twitter be supportive of democratic principles when they make it so easy to exclude you?

You have a right to redress your government.  If you don't like something your government is doing you have a right to state your opinion to the government.  You have a right to not be arbitrarily singled out and treated differently for acting upon your rights of redress.  You have a right to be treated equally in respect to voicing your grievances.  You also have a right to demand better government social media policies from your elected leaders.  You also ought to know that you have a right to demand that Twitter change their platform to prevent further violations of federal, state, and local laws that define public records and the duties and ethical responsibilities of our public officers.

During the past three weeks I've been submitting public records requests to a variety of public officials, with a focus on US mayors.  My hope during during Banned Twitter Feeds Week is to highlight a variety of abuses that both US lawmakers and Twitter must address in order to protect the rights of the platform users.

The next time you read in the news that an elected official is going to be doing a Twitter chat or Periscope interview you should realize that if they block or mute anyone, then that chat is made up of a selective audience.  Personally, I'd decline to participate.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Banned Twitter Feeds Week 2015 Announcement!

In honor of Banned Books Week 2015 I will be hosting my own week long Banned Twitter Feeds Week!  I want to highlight the variety of ways public officials engage in the unlawful use of Twitter and other social media platforms when interacting with other users.

During the week of Sunday, September 27th I will be sharing the block and mute lists of a variety of US mayors!  I will also unveil the Redress Dress I created!

more to come...

Continue reading my blog entries to learn more about the issue.

Here are some blog highlights:
See who the San Francisco City Attorney Blocks on his Twitter Accounts
The Due Process Violation Risk Calculator
Analysis of San Francisco DA George Gascon's Twitter Block List
City of Santa Ana Police Department Releases List of Blocked/Muted Twitter Users

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The @SFPD & @SFPDCares...About Blocking & Muting Your Tweets

I requested the block and mute list of a variety of SFPD related Twitter accounts and yesterday I received the results.  Not all accounts engage in blocking or muting people who posts tweets to them.  For example, the @SFPDChiefSuhr@SFPDCentral@SFPDBayview, and @SFPDTenderloin accounts are not blocking or muting anyone, but below I list two accounts that are.

This is the list of blocked and muted users from the @SFPD account:

This is the list of blocked and muted users from the @SFPDCares account:

Ironically, this is what the @SFPDCares says about their Twitter account:

Yes, they are open to ideas and are willing to listen if you just so happen to agree with them or don't contact them too often, otherwise, you may find yourself blocked or muted.

For example, look at a few of the polite tweets that got @mbla807 muted on the @SFPDCares account:

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Santa Ana Police Arbitrarily Block & Mute users on Twitter

On Monday a great article was published on the website:
What’s @SantaAnaPD Doing to Tweets It Doesn’t Like?

For readers who thought that police agencies would only block or mute harassing, threatening, or vulgar tweets you are mistaken.

Below is an example of a muted comment, a blocked comment, and a comment that was neither muted or blocked.  See if you can decide what criteria the @SantaAnaPD uses when they decide how to censor tweets posted to their Twitter account.  (HINT: you won't, there is no criteria)

@BillyCorben was muted for the following tweet:

@Cherokee__Doll was blocked for the one of the following tweets:

However, @AirAndrade made the following comment that was neither muted or blocked:

See the full list of blocked and muted here: