Commentary

NYC Warns Pols On Official Accounts

With President Trump’s Twitter account on its usual flamethrower setting, elected officials’ use of social media is naturally coming under a bit more scrutiny.

In New York City, politicians are being warned not to use official accounts as a soapbox for political activity – but this is clearly a bit of a tricky issue, considering the massive overlap between official and political concerns.

Last week, the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board issued new guidelines warning elected officials that they can’t use the official city social media accounts for things like publicizing campaign events or endorsing a candidate, according to the New York Daily News, which first reported the ruling.

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Per the new rule, any posts containing overtly political content may only appear on the official’s campaign or personal accounts.

Further, elected officials may not post to their campaign or personal accounts during normal working hours, or using government-provided devices.

Officials are also prohibited from having city staff members post to their campaign or personal accounts, a task which must be left to their campaign committee.

Finally, the guidance warns that all officials and employees must not appear to be speaking on behalf of the city in their private accounts.

Politicians are still allowed to re-post or share content from city accounts on their campaign accounts, for example re-tweeting a video from the mayor’s office.

The News speculates that the Board’s statement may have been prompted by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s posting of a promotional video detailing the mayor’s accomplishments over the last year back in December.

The light-hearted and possibly misconceived video, which involved Broadway and TV stars singing about affordable housing, was attacked by critics who said it looked a lot like a campaign ad, even though it was posted by official accounts controlled by the mayor’s office.

Of course there is a broad range of content straddling the official and political realms, and arguably, most types of content actually fall in this gray zone.

For example, if the head of the Department of Transportation tweets about the great job snow removal squads are doing during a blizzard after the mayor ordered them to hit the streets in the early morning, this could be seen as an implicit endorsement of his leadership.

Similarly when City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito tweets “We need more women in our NYCCouncil & beyond,” or re-tweets someone applauding NYC’s police commissioner for coming out against Trump’s plan to deport illegal immigrants, these certainly seem like political statements.

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