Constituent policy

Alaska Legislature debates new social media policy for lawmakers

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — The Alaska Legislature is debating whether to implement a new social media outlet for lawmakers and what it should look like.

The current policy, which was written and implemented in 2011, would be deprecated. It includes recommendations for lawmakers to avoid using “inappropriate language” and correct mistakes on posts as quickly as possible, but it doesn’t address the more vexing practice of lawmakers blocking voters from their social media pages. or delete comments.

The new draft policy, modeled after one used in Colorado, recommends that lawmakers’ personal social media accounts be kept confidential and that they not use those pages for any legislative activity. Indeed, their private and public lives would be separated.

There would be two options for official legislators’ legislative social media pages. The first would be to operate them as message boards where information could be posted, but voter comments would be prohibited. The second choice would effectively be a free-for-all for public debate

Jessica Geary, head of the Legislative Affairs Agency, summed up the two choices for lawmakers: “It’s all right or nothing is the surest way to avoid litigation.”

Since 2011, several Alaska lawmakers have been sued under the First Amendment for blocking voters from accessing their social media pages and deleting comments on posts. A legislative ethics committee last year found probable cause that Republican Eagle River Sen. Lora Reinbold likely violated state law by blocking a voter on Facebook, prompting calls for an update of the social media policy.

Reinbold, who is not running for office, is in turn suing that legislative committee, but she faces a separate lawsuit for allegedly blocking another voter from her Facebook page. Big Lake Republican Rep. Kevin McCabe is facing a similar, ongoing lawsuit.

State Legislatures Across the country grapple with whether lawmakers’ personal and official social media pages should be considered public forums for debate and how they should be managed. This issue has not yet been decided by the Alaska state courts.

Senator Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, raised concerns about the new draft social media policy when it was unveiled before a Legislative Council hearing on Wednesday. She argued that this went “too far” in giving instructions on how lawmakers should manage their personal social media accounts.

Hughes also raised concerns about not having the ability to moderate offensive or threatening comments on social media. She noted that people who swear or threaten others at town hall meetings or committee hearings will be asked to leave or their calls will be disconnected.

The Legislative Council, which acts on behalf of the Legislature as a whole, has not made a final decision on a new social media policy for legislators; which should be finalized at a later date.

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