LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Nearly 800 Twitter accounts have been blocked or muted by Michigan state government accounts, including one agency that blocked the official @POTUS presidential account now controlled by the Trump administration, according to a newspaper’s review.
The Lansing State Journal obtained records of the blocked Twitter handles through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Blocked users cannot access tweets from the agencies that blocked them. Such tweets range from lighthearted memes to official announcements sometimes related to public safety.
Records show that while some government accounts didn’t block anyone, the dozen accounts associated with the Michigan Department of Transportation blocked a combined 550 individual Twitter handles. Many of the blocked accounts are spam or pornography related, but some appeared to be of legitimate businesses or individuals.
State officials had no explanations for how or why some accounts were blocked. They said some accounts — such as actor Rainn Wilson’s account — were blocked on accident.
There’s no evidence that accounts were blocked for criticizing a government agency.
The Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crime blocked numerous corporate accounts and the @POTUS account in 2014, when President Barack Obama still controlled the account. The account was blocked because those users’ posts were cluttering the alliance’s feed, not because of specific subject matter, said Michigan Department of Civil Rights spokeswoman Vicki Levengood.
Michigan digital content administrator Andrew Belanger said accountability is important because despite all the risks associated with social media, it helps government reach its citizens.
Still, some critics said blocking accounts restricts the public’s ability to communicate with the government.
There’s no statute or case law establishing what rights Michigan residents have to interact with their government online. Because Twitter is a private company and not a public square, residents might not be able to claim a violation of their rights.
“It is a very interesting idea but I wonder whether the courts will find the reasoning compelling enough to apply public forum doctrine in such a new way,” said Faith Sparr, a lecturer at the University of Michigan’s Communication Studies Department.