As in Woonsocket, we’re going to have to figure out the lines of public transparency.

Two Woonsocket residents are suing Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt with the help of the ACLU for deleting their posts on and blocking them from her Facebook page:

Greg Duhamel said he was banned last November when he made a post challenging Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt’s attempt to claim credit for the building of a skate park.

Thomas Dubois made a comment about construction taking place at a local park. His remark was quickly deleted and he was banned, the ACLU said.

“Just as public officials may not preclude persons from participating in the public comment portion of a town hall meeting based on their viewpoints, Mayor Baldelli-Hunt cannot ban users from the @LISABALDELLIHUNT Facebook page because she dislikes their opinions,” the federal lawsuit says.

This is more unexplored territory that technology has introduced, and there are obviously good arguments on both sides.  Taking a job in government or running for public office (paid or volunteer) does not mean one gives up the right to be an independent citizen.  Indeed, we shouldn’t want to set up a system in which only people who are willing to give up their individual rights run for public office.

That said, the risk exists for public officials to simultaneously benefit from their privileged positions by capitalizing on their increased information and constrain access to that information by communicating only with people they privilege with access.

It’ll take time, but the most reasonable (and most likely) outcome is one that depends on the facts of the case.  Public officials will continue to be able to differentiate between a personal page, a campaign page, an official page, and so on, but the distinction will have to be demonstrable.  And of course, there can (and should) be standards for the users of the page; people who aren’t commenting with the tone and substance of citizens will have less of a case against being blocked.

If Baldelli-Hunt is using her personal page for official announcements and as a public forum through which constituents provide input for her job, then it has to be open.  As the featured image of this post shows, that’s exactly what she’s doing.

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3 months ago

See Knight Institute v. Trump.

2 months ago

[…] Valley Breeze reports the conclusion of a controversy in Woonsocket mentioned in this space a month […]

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