A lawsuit filed in Florida’s Eleventh Judicial Court in Miami has the potential to establish precedent for whether the block lists of public officials’ Facebook and Twitter accounts are public records. These social media block lists effectively ban certain individuals and pages from communicating with an elected official’s social media account. The case presents interesting questions concerning whether or not social media accounts of public officials are considered avenues of official communication, compared to other avenues of constituent communication (such as public meetings, email and written correspondence) which do not allow for public officials to ban specific people from communicating with them.
The lawsuit originated out of a public records request submitted for the block list of Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine’s Facebook account which had been denied by the city on the grounds that the Mayor’s Facebook block list was “not a public record that was made or received in the course of the official business of the City of Miami Beach.” And around the time of the public records request, Mayor Levine’s Facebook page and Twitter bio page were amended with a disclaimer stating: “This page expresses the opinions and views of Mayor Levine and not those of the City of MB.”
The lawsuit claims that these accounts are subject to public records laws as in practice they are used by the Mayor to communicate with constituents about official city business. And further, the accounts explicitly identify Levine as a government official, @MayorLevine, as opposed to separately maintained social media accounts which deal only in personal or campaign-related communications.
While the outcome of this lawsuit could establish an important precedent on how these social media accounts are treated under public records laws, in other jurisdictions government officials have already released their Twitter block lists in response to public records requests. The blog Government Block Lists Revealed has requested Twitter block lists from over 60 government officials and agencies, and posted the responses online.