PINAC Director Sues Miami Beach Mayor Over Refusal To Release Social Media Blocklists

from the blocking-the-public-and-then-blocking-the-public dept

Executive director of Photography is Not a Crime (PINAC) Grant Stern is taking Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine to court over public records request denials. As Fusion’s Ethan Chiel reports, the mayor has been busy blocking critics on both Twitter and Facebook, and Stern aims to find out just how many constituents the mayor is tuning out.

[T]he suit demands the release of 30 days of Levine’s tweets, the list of users blocked from commenting on his Facebook page, and records regarding Levine’s radio show. The suit seems to ask Florida’s Eleventh Judicial Court to decide what qualifies as official communication on social media by an elected official.

Stern has some personal experience with Mayor Levine. Facebook comments and tweeted responses by Stern have been deleted and/or met with blocks. The push to have the court issue an opinion on what is or isn’t an “official communication” is also prompted by the mayor’s actions (or the actions of whoever runs his official social media accounts). As Chiel notes, Stern’s (swiftly deleted) Facebook comment requesting a month’s-worth of Mayor Levine’s tweets (after being blocked on Twitter) was greeted with a hasty rewrite of the mayor’s social media account info.

At some point in the intervening period, the about section of Levine’s Facebook page and his Twitter bio were updated with a new disclaimer: “This page expresses the opinions and views of Mayor Levine and not those of the City of MB.”

This hasty rewrite appears to have led directly to the denial the city issued in response to Stern’s request for social media blocklists:

Stern received a letter from Deputy City Attorney Aleksandr Boksner who said that the block list for the Facebook account was “not a public record that was made or received in the course of the official business of the City of Miami Beach,” and thus wouldn’t be produced.

Stern’s lawsuit [PDF] argues to the contrary: Mayor Levine clearly uses both accounts for official city business.

Levine utilizes Facebook® to communicate the official acts and businesses of the City of Miami Beach to his constituents. Levine’s Facebook® account addresses him as a governmental official and that his current office is the mayor of Miami Beach, Florida. Levine’s account states that he is: “Making Miami Beach the city that works…for its people.”

After a cursory review of Levine’s Twitter® and Facebook®, there’s no question that Levine utilizes social media to communicate the City of Miami Beach’s official business. Levine’s communications include posts such as renaming a Miami Beach street after Muhammad Ali to informing residents of the Zika virus outbreak in the city.

The city has refused to comment on the lawsuit, but it’s fairly clear it considers social media accounts off limits for public records requests. That decision may not stand up to judicial scrutiny, however, not even with the hasty appendage of “not the city of MB” wording. Other government agencies have turned over blocklists to requesters, and it’s a bit disingenuous to claim a public account disseminating information of interest to constituents is not “public records” subject to Florida’s public records laws.

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Comments on “PINAC Director Sues Miami Beach Mayor Over Refusal To Release Social Media Blocklists”

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Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

The Mayor May Well Be Correct

The public records law [Ch. 119, generally] only applies to records made or received as part of the entity’s business. Unless there is some action on the part of the city’s governing board authorizing, or use of city resources supporting, the mayor’s facebook page, I think he has a strong argument that it is his and not the city’s.

Officials do not lose all rights to act as themselves during their time in office. You do not get to review the mayor’s personal check register, either, nor do you get to review his contributions to his church to see whether he tithes.

I have not seen the suit, but presume that there are some allegations trying to tie the facebook account to the city. I am of the view that it will not be an easy case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The Mayor May Well Be Correct

Unless there is […] use of city resources [supporting] the mayor’s facebook page,

If the comments were made on city computers or during working hours, and are about city business, it would be hard to claim it’s entirely a personal page.

Officials do not lose all rights to act as themselves during their time in office. You do not get to review the mayor’s personal check register

Those checks wouldn’t be labeled "mayor". Or if they were, it would be reasonable to assume the mayor is not acting in a personal capacity.

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