Jeff Simpson says it was his criticism of state Rep. Jesse Kremer’s “young Earth” beliefs that got him blocked from the lawmaker’s Twitter account.
In that (and probably a few other things), the president and the conservative Republican from Kewaskum share some common ground, given that Donald Trump is the subject of a lawsuit for blocking access to his Twitter account.
In a June 15 tweet to Kremer, Simpson, a liberal Monona Grove School Board member, asks: “Are we at a point where we can ask @repjessekremer if he has a mental illness ...,” and includes a link to a blog post he authored in which he writes: “Kremer continued his crazy recently, by telling us it is a fact that the earth is only 6000 years old.”
Similarly, it was criticism of Kremer’s bill to punish people who disrupt speakers at University of Wisconsin campuses that got liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now blocked from accessing Kremer’s tweets, according to the group’s executive director, Scot Ross.
It shows a “radioactive level of hypocrisy” for Kremer to back a bill he says is about free speech, and then be “too fragile to let certain people read his Twitter feed.”
Clearly, a lot of the political sparring on Twitter and Facebook is mean, stupid, disheartening or harmfully addictive. I’ve been the target of Simpson’s and Ross’ posts before, and responded in kind.
But in using social media to talk policy or other issues related to their offices, elected officials may well be creating a public record that, as a matter of state law, can’t be kept from the public.
In a December 2009 letter, former Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen writes that a Google discussion group run by a town board chairwoman in Kenosha County is probably a public record under state law because it includes discussions of town business and is maintained by a government official. As such, he said citizens should probably have access to it, although that doesn’t mean they must be allowed to participate in the discussion.
If the same logic is applied to lawmakers’ use of social media, it would be OK for them to keep people from commenting on their sites, but not OK to keep people from seeing what gets posted there. Although, unlike Google discussion groups, Twitter feeds are often publicly available to those not signed into Twitter, depending on the Twitter user’s privacy settings.
I asked the Wisconsin Legislative Council, which provides guidance to lawmakers, and Attorney General Brad Schimel’s and Gov. Scott Walker’s offices what guidance, if any, they provide to elected officials on who can access and comment on their social media accounts. I also asked the AG’s office whether Van Hollen’s 2009 letter applied to such issues today.
Schimel spokesman Johnny Koremenos said “questions regarding restrictions on access to and ability to comment on social media accounts have more to do with free speech than public records.
“I am not able to comment on legal advice or guidance we may or may not be giving to our clients,” he said. “Anybody who uses Facebook knows there is a balance that needs to be struck between harassing, abusive, and profane language and the First Amendment.”
Ross and Simpson say they haven’t threatened Kremer on social media. Ross said he believes his group has grounds to sue Kremer for access to his Twitter, but hasn’t decided to take that step.
Kremer’s and Walker’s offices and the Legislative Council did not respond to my inquiries.
Because I’m on a one-man mission to keep Twitter from ever being profitable, the only people or companies I block from my feed are the ones who “promote” their Tweets. I’ve blocked one person on Facebook after spending way too much time responding (unconvincingly, it would seem) to her questions and criticisms.
I figure people who get paid to write their opinions or report the news should be accessible to the people they want to read their stuff.
Elected officials deserve even less leeway in denying the public access to their government-related musings.
That includes members of the public who act like jerks, which at the intersection of politics and social media, can often feel like pretty much everyone.