COMMITTEE LOOKS AT FACEBOOK AND TWITTER

On May 11, League staff was invited to testify on the following interim charge before the Senate State Affairs Committee:

Study the Public Information Act and the Open Meetings Act to ensure that government continues to operate in a way that is open and transparent. The study should consider how advances in technology and the emergence of various forms of social media (e.g. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter) have affected communications by and within governmental bodies.

The League’s testimony dealt with the legal pitfalls of social media Web sites when used by mayors and city councilmembers, and it appeared to be well-received. Several media organizations testified as well.

An interesting addition to the hearing came during public testimony. A representative from Americans for Prosperity (AFP) testified that “city officials want to use social media to get around the Open Meetings Act, and in doing so, they want to take the teeth out of the Act.” In addition to making unsupported statements about city officials and open government laws, the AFP representative launched into an unsolicited attack on “taxpayer funded lobbying.”

According to its Web site, “Americans for Prosperity…are committed to educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing those citizens as advocates in the public policy process.” In Texas, AFP’s mission would appear to be limited to mobilizing citizens who do not serve as local elected officials. In other words, the only reasonable interpretation of AFP’s position is that elected officials have no role as advocates in the public policy process.

A senator on the committee quickly came to the defense of cities, and refuted AFP’s nonsensical position. To view the AFP testimony, which lasts about eight minutes, CLICK HERE.

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