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.