Back in September, MuckRock user Lindsay Crudele filed a Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act request to the city of Cranston for the Twitter block list of the account associated with Mayor Allan Fung. Crudele, whose mother resides in Cranston, had herself been blocked by the @MayorFung account after using the platform to inquiring about Fung’s healthcare policies.
After being told that the “potentially voluminous” nature of the request necessitated an additional 20 days (to which Crudele responded with detailed instructions on how to export the block list), today, the city responded: There were no records, as “this Twitter account is not associated with the City of Cranston.”
This came a day after the block list had been provided to the Providence Journal, in an article in which Fung’s campaign press secretary claimed the account was personal and dismissed Crudele’s inquiry as a “nuisance posting.”
The issue of whether or not elected officials can block members of the public is a complicated one. Back in May, federal judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that President Donald Trump was violating the First Amendment rights of individuals blocked on the platform.
However, the issue of whether a personal account of a public official is subject to the public records request is generally, for the most part, more straightforward.
If a public official is using a private account in an official capacity, then those records should be public. Loopholes, such as using a private email or even claiming not to use email at all, can make it more difficult to access these records, but they do not render them exempt.
And as Crudele has documented, Fung’s “personal” account clearly is used to discuss public business in Cranston.
Good morning! @mayorfung's office has written to say that his account is 'not associated with the City of Cranston' and will not fulfill the @muckrock request. #ri #rigov #ripoli #opengov https://t.co/WnFmwzvjh8? pic.twitter.com/TGmP0THhvy— Lindsay Crudele 🍁 (@thelindsayist) October 10, 2018
When reached out to over phone for comment, Crudele said “I’m going to continue to advocate to ensure these channels are open on behalf of the First Amendment and public safety. And that’s going to continue to be the case after November 6th, whether he becomes Governor of Rhode Island or continues as Mayor of Cranston.”
Crudele has filed a follow-up request for Cranson’s social media policies, which you can follow here.