Sunday, September 27, 2015

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.