Erie County Legislature Minority Leader Joe Lorigo has sent a letter to the county attorney requesting a social media policy be drafted for all Erie County elected officials. This request comes on the heels of a recent Notice of Claim filed against the county executive for his use of social media including comments on his “webpage” and Twitter account in August 2018. That claim, Benjamin & Judy Landa v. Mark Poloncarz can be found here, starting on page 59.
While Legislator Lorigo’s letter does not question the validity of the notice of claim, it notes the county executive has publicly referred to his Twitter and Facebook as a “personal account,” although he continues to post county-related government information, uses county staff to live tweet county events and press conferences from both accounts, in addition to promoting political fundraisers and events.
Additionally, recently on Facebook, Executive Poloncarz posted a comment on an article he shared to his account referencing a residents comments he deleted stating “I deleted a comment because the person was too lazy to read the article. If I post an article and someone comments on it without obviously reading it your comment will be deleted. I expected my followers to read what I post before commenting on it. My facebook page, my site.”
The Constitution Center, a non-partisan institution established by Congress, in a recent article titled Can politicians block negative comments on their social media accounts?, notes several recent lawsuits, including by the American Civil Liberties Union, that challenge whether elected officials can delete residents comments under the law. The Constitution Center states “While Facebook and Twitter are not government-owned services, there are indications courts could consider them as “limited public forums” when politicians use them to communicate with people. In a limited public forum, speech about government issues can’t be unreasonably limited because of a speaker’s viewpoint”.
“The county executive’s use of social media is an example of why we need some type of clarification on how a social media account should be used, and I think other officials need guidance also” said Legislator Lorigo. “It is misleading to the public to use an account for government-related purposes while at the same time making personal statements and pushing people to attend political fundraisers. As elected officials, it is important we separate our official public statements from those we make as private citizens. This is a conversation taking place across the country, including recently in other counties in New York State. I think an official policy would benefit all current and future Erie County elected officials.”
A copy of the letter is here.