Texas governor won’t say whom he blocks from public Twitter account


Highlights

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick refuse public information requests on people they block on Twitter.

The officials cite cybersecurity concerns.

In June, the American-Statesman sent public records requests to Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, among other Austin- and Texas-based politicians, asking for lists of whom they block from following their public, taxpayer-funded Twitter accounts.

The governor, citing public safety concerns, said, no. His fear: Russian hackers.

Lawyers for each office said they are asking Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to rule that the information is exempt from required public disclosure. Both argue that divulging the names of the blocked accounts constitute “a computer network vulnerability report.”

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: Our Lone Star Politics page brings Capitol news to your Facebook feed

Abbott and Patrick cited a May Time magazine article that discusses Russian hackers who used tailored Twitter messages to take over a computer upon clicking a link in the tweet, a type of phishing attack. Releasing the lists of blocked accounts, they argue, would allow hackers to see which methods were flagged as security threats and which were not.

The Texas Public Information Act requires government bodies to request an attorney general opinion to withhold information and to notify the person who requested the information of their intent to do so. The law gives Paxton 45 business days to issue a decision; the clock started ticking on July 3. Paxton can also request a 10-day extension.

In a phone call, Abbott’s general counsel Jessica Vu said the governor would still seek to deny the records release even if the Statesman submitted a revised request for only Twitter handles and names.

Not all politicians fear hackers, though. City of Austin public information officials responded to the Statesman’s request the next business day, saying Austin Mayor Steve Adler doesn’t block anyone on Twitter.

In response to a separate request, Adler’s office also released its Twitter direct messages since January 2015.

The Statesman’s initial request was inspired by news that Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin blocks more than 500 people on Twitter, despite often citing his social media as the only reliable news source on his office.

Kentucky news outlets, including Louisville’s The Courier-Journal and the national nonprofit ProPublica, obtained the names and Twitter handles of people Bevin blocked via open records requests.

TEXAS POLITICS DELIVERED EVERY DAY: Sign up for our Texas Politics email

According to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, Bevin’s office said users are blocked due to “posting obscene and abusive language or images, or repeated off-topic comments and spam,” while some of those blocked said it was because they sent tweets critiquing the governor.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky filed a lawsuit on behalf of two of the blocked Twitter users on July 31 for blocking their political speech.

“I may not have voted for Gov. Bevin, but I’m one of his constituents. He shouldn’t be permanently dismissing my views and concerns with a click,” Mary Hargis, one of the people blocked by Bevin and represented by the ACLU, told the Courier-Journal.

Nationally, Twitter users blocked by President Donald Trump are also lawyering up. The Knight First Amendment Institute sued Trump on July 11. The institute argues social media is the newest public forum and that it is unconstitutional to block people from public discourse due to conflicting opinions.

Politicians blocking people on Twitter is nothing new. In 2015, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which like the Statesman is owned by Cox Media Group, wrote about a list of people blocked by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. The names came from journalists discussing it on Twitter, not from a public records request.

Most of those Reed blocked were members of the Atlanta press corps who had written unfavorably about the mayor or his policies, but several quoted said they weren’t sure why exactly they got blocked.

In their appeal to deny the Statesman’s request for a list blocked followers, Abbott and Patrick don’t indicate whether all of those they have blocked are barred because they posed cybersecurity threats.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Texas News & Politics

4 displaced after house fire Sunday night in Northwest Austin; none injured
4 displaced after house fire Sunday night in Northwest Austin; none injured

An electrical fire at a Northwest Austin home displaced its four residents, including two children, Sunday night, Austin Fire officials said. No one was injured. The four people and their one cat later found a place to sleep for the evening, officials said. Crews responding to the home around 9:40 p.m. in the 10600 block of Spicewood Parkway initially...
As Atlanta airport recovers, only 2 flights from Austin canceled Monday
As Atlanta airport recovers, only 2 flights from Austin canceled Monday

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was recovering Monday morning from a power outage that lasted nearly 11 hours on Sunday, but a quick check of the boards at Austin’s airport shows only two canceled flights to Atlanta and all seven arriving flights were “on time.” A fire in a Georgia Power underground electrical...
Chick-fil-A comes to rescue during Atlanta airport's power outage
Chick-fil-A comes to rescue during Atlanta airport's power outage

It could be a first for Atlanta's favorite fried chicken sandwich restaurant -- Chick-fil-A opened up its hearts and its fryers to help the stranded travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Chick-fil-A is traditionally closed on Sundays but because of the massive power outage at the airport, restaurant employees came to the...
FORECAST: Dense fog possible until 9 a.m.; cloudy, small chance of rain Monday
FORECAST: Dense fog possible until 9 a.m.; cloudy, small chance of rain Monday

Monday forecast for Austin: A dense fog advisory is in effect until 9 a.m. throughout the Austin metro area – including Travis, Hays, Williamson, Bastrop and Caldwell counties – the National Weather Service says. If you are driving, you should slow down and leave plenty of distance in front of your vehicle because visibility will be reduced...
Texas family's Christmas light show pays tribute to Selena
Texas family's Christmas light show pays tribute to Selena

A Texas family is paying tribute to the late singer Selena with a light show set to one of her songs, WFAA reported. Beto Hinojosa of Boerne has been doing light shows in front of his home for four years. This year, he decided to add the Selena song, “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom.” Hinojosa, a principal in the Boerne school district, said he...
More Stories