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Please unblock us all on Facebook, Mr. Mayor: Editorial

Posted 9/5/18

When Bob Hauser of the first block of Brown Street spoke to the Middletown Borough Council on Aug. 21, he raised an issue that has been a concern of ours for a while.

Mayor James H. Curry III …

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Please unblock us all on Facebook, Mr. Mayor: Editorial

Posted

When Bob Hauser of the first block of Brown Street spoke to the Middletown Borough Council on Aug. 21, he raised an issue that has been a concern of ours for a while.

Mayor James H. Curry III is a fan of Facebook videos. He does many on his Facebook page. They often have to do with borough business.

However, the mayor also has blocked many people from his Facebook page. That includes almost every employee of the Press & Journal. If the mayor posts a video to his Facebook page, and to his Facebook page only, it is very difficult for anyone at the Press & Journal to see it. Of course, he has done that on purpose.

Now, those videos are being imbedded from the mayor’s Facebook page onto the borough’s website at middletownborough.com. If you are logged on to Facebook but blocked by the mayor, then you cannot see those videos. You get an error message: “Video Unavailable … This video may no longer exist, or you don’t have permission to view it.” This happens when most of us at the Press & Journal try to view the Aug. 21 video, “For Immediate Release — Statement on Behalf of Middletown Borough,” regarding the arrest of Police Chief George Mouchette.

The video is there, of course. If you log out of Facebook and reload the page on the borough website, you can see it. But this is an issue the mayor needs to address, because he is in a sense limiting the ability of people in the community to be informed.

We didn’t know how widespread the issue was, but Hauser summed it up this way:

“Those videos are not visible to me and several other people because we are blocked on the mayor’s personal website, and that’s fine, being blocked is fine. I have no problem with that. But it’s blocking us from seeing the official word from the mayor on the borough website. And that has to change.”

We wholeheartedly agree.

Hauser suggested that videos such as the one on Mouchette be sent to the borough so that the borough can place it on its website, for all residents to see whether they are on Facebook or not.

He is right.

Curry knows the situation with the videos. When Hauser questioned him directly about residents not being able to see his videos on the borough website because the Facebook block carries over, he simply said, “I’m well aware.” That was it.

This blurring of personal social media use with official business has yet to be fully vetted by the courts. But it seems to be coming more into focus.

In May, for example, a federal judge ruled that President Donald Trump’s practice of blocking people on Twitter was unconstitutional, and he was forced to unblock them, which he did in August.

“Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, addressing a novel issue about how the Constitution applies to social media platforms and public officials, found that the president’s Twitter feed is a public forum. As a result, she ruled that when Mr. Trump or an aide blocked seven plaintiffs from viewing and replying to his posts, he violated the First Amendment,” The New York Times reported.

“Public officials throughout the country, from local politicians to governors and members of Congress, regularly use social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to interact with the public about government business,” the Times reported.

As Jameel Jaffer, the Knight First Amendment Institute’s executive director and the counsel for the plaintiffs, said: “This ruling should put them on notice, and if they censor critics from social media accounts used for official purposes, they run the risk that someone will sue them and win.”

The ruling rejected the government’s claim that Trump operates the account only in a personal capacity, concluding that he “uses the account to take actions that can be taken only by the president as president,” according to the Times.

The argument certainly can be made that the situation with our mayor is very similar.

We urge him to take this ruling seriously. Unblock us. Let us see what you have to say on the issues.

The residents and businesses of Middletown deserve it.