COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ staff say the Republican’s popular Facebook and Twitter accounts are unofficial and therefore exempt from public records requests, including one seeking the number of users he’s blocked from seeing content on those accounts.
Greitens’ office denied public records requests from the Columbia Missourian for the number of users blocked from the governor’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and copies of his direct messages, the newspaper reported. Blocking users on Facebook and Twitter restricts their ability to see and interact with content with the blocked account.
Greitens’ attorney, Sarah Madden, said Greitens created those accounts before taking office in January and they are not the governor’s official accounts, making them exempt from state open-records laws. Madden in an email to the newspaper wrote that “no individuals have been blocked from any official social media account administered by this office.”
Spokesman Parker Briden did not directly address questions from the Columbia Missourian, but in a text said the governor “uses social media to communicate with people,” including with accounts “created long before he ever ran for office, and different state-maintained accounts — which have been in the works for some time.” Briden declined to comment further to The Associated Press.
Briden later told the Springfield News-Leader that the governor’s office “complies with all applicable records retention laws and requirements for state-maintained social media accounts.”
What appears to be the governor’s “official” Twitter account, created last month, had roughly 250 followers as of Friday. There was only one tweet, dated Wednesday, and the account has not been verified by Twitter.
For comparison, Greitens’ other Twitter account has more than 62,000 followers.
Fewer than 200 people were following what appears to be Greitens’ “official” Facebook account as of Friday, which was created in January but has only a few posts dating from late September to this past week.
More than 400,000 people follow Greitens’ other Facebook account, which he’s used for three public question-and-answer sessions about his work as governor.
Missouri resident Patsy Roach, 54, told the Missourian that she was blocked from Greitens’ Facebook account after commenting with a puking emoji in response to one of his posts about a new right-to-work law banning mandatory union fees in Missouri. Greitens signed the measure in February. Roach said she didn’t use profanity in her posts on Greitens’ Facebook. She said after writing to Greitens’ office, she received a voicemail from someone who explained to her that she had been blocked for posting the emoji.
“I would just like to be able to voice my opinion,” Roach said. “I mean, it’s what our country’s about.”
If Greitens blocked users or deleted posts and comments without following an established policy, he could face lawsuits, said Lyrissa Lidsky, dean of the University of Missouri School of Law and First Amendment law expert.
“If they’re blocking critical commentary based on content or viewpoint, it opens him up to a lawsuit alleging First Amendment violations,” Lidsky said, adding, “In fact, government officials in other states have been sued precisely for that activity.”
A “social media moderation policy” that warns that posts or comments that violate guidelines, such as profanity, could be removed without notice was posted on the governor’s official website the same day Greitens’ office responded to The Missourian’s records request.
The American Civil Liberties Union in August sued Maine Gov. Paul LePage and sent warning letters to Utah’s congressional delegation. It followed recent lawsuits against the governors of Maryland and Kentucky and President Donald Trump, who has faced pushback for blocking his critics on Twitter.
Information from: Columbia Missourian, http://www.columbiamissourian.com