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FAC Prompts Disclosure of California Governor Jerry Brown’s Social Media ‘Block Lists’

The First Amendment Coalition today released documents from California Governor Jerry Brown showing that he blocked more than 1,500 individual accounts on his Twitter and Facebook accounts–a practice that excluded those people from participating in a vital forum for political discussion and debate surrounding the state’s highest elected official.

In releasing the documents to FAC, the Governor’s office said Brown does not “currently block or mute any Twitter or Facebook account.”  The Governor’s office did not say when he stopped blocking individuals on social media.  However, it appears the Governor was blocking individuals shortly before June 21, when FAC submitted a request under the California Public Records Act seeking the Governor’s social media “block lists.”

For nearly three months after FAC’s June 21 request, the Governor’s office refused to produce the records, arguing that Brown’s social media accounts are “the Governor’s personal accounts…and as such not subject” to the CPRA.   It was not until FAC threatened to bring suit under the CPRA, and provided the Governor a deadline by which to provide the records or else be sued, that the Governor’s office relented, providing the records shortly after FAC’s deadline last week.

The records finally released by the Governor show that he blocked about 1,500 individuals on Facebook, and several hundred on Twitter.

“Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become the town square of 21st century America and, as such, all Americans have a First Amendment right to participate in that forum,” said FAC Executive Director David Snyder.  “When elected officials block their constituents and others based on their political viewpoints or their constitutionally protected speech, those elected officials are violating the protections of the First Amendment.”

Lists of those “blocked” by any given social media account are generally available only to the user of the account, and thus are not available to members of the public visiting the account.  FAC sought Brown’s block lists to ascertain whether the Governor was engaging in widespread blocking, and to understand the scope and nature of such blocking.  As it explained in its initial request to the Governor on June 26, such records are clearly subject to disclosure under the CPRA.  Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court held that communications and records created, sent or received on non-governmental devices or accounts are subject to the CPRA.

“We are glad that the Governor ultimately decided to release the records FAC sought, and that he has apparently ceased the practice of blocking individuals on his social media accounts,” Snyder said.  “However, it should not have taken three months and the threat of litigation to bring these records to public light.”

Social media blocking has become the subject of litigation around the country, with lawsuits alleging First Amendment violations being filed against President Donald Trump and the governors of Maryland, Kentucky and Maine, for those officials’ alleged practice of blocking individuals.

The records released by the Governor can be viewed and downloaded below:

Previously Blocked Facebook Accounts

Download (PDF, 2.74MB)

Previously Blocked Twitter Accounts

Download (PDF, 237KB)

FAC was represented in this matter by Karl Olson of Cannata, O’Toole, Fickes and Almazan.

Contacts:

David Snyder
First Amendment Coalition
Executive Director
415-460-5060
dsnyder@firstamendmentcoalition.org

Karl Olson
Partner
Cannata, O’Toole, Fickes and Almazan
(415) 409-8900
kolson@cofalaw.com

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