The American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics, a Rochester-based research consortium to which the state has committed $250 million, blocked several dozen users on Twitter; many appear likely to be bots but at least two are humans—a critic of the enterprise’s communications strategy and a staff writer for The Alt.
Under the state Freedom of Information Law, we requested from SUNY Polytechnic Institute, a member of the initiative, a list of the accounts blocked by @AIMPhotonics on Aug. 28, the day we discovered it had blocked us. We had previously mentioned the consortium only once in a tweet, when we shared a court filing by a fiber-optics company that has sued SUNY Research Foundation over the alleged disclosure of proprietary information in a document distributed at an AIM Photonics public meeting in April 2016. The court proceeding, recently embroiled in a discovery dispute, remains ongoing.
Metadata indicates the document showing the Twitter blocked list was created on Aug. 29—one day after we submitted our FOIL request—and that its author is Frank Tolic, the public-private partnership’s chief marketing officer. Tolic did not respond to a request for comment.
On Wednesday, @JudyCheesey, one of the Twitter users who appeared on the list, told us she is no longer blocked. Prior to our inquiry, she had mentioned @AIMPhotonics only once: On Aug. 5, she quote-tweeted a Democrat and Chronicle editorial titled, “Transparency lacking from photonics leaders.”
“A good example of bad communications management,” @JudyCheesey wrote.
The D&C editorial chided AIM Photonics—which is poised to open its long-awaited Test, Assembly and Packaging (TAP) manufacturing facility in Rochester’s Eastman Business Park—for its minimal job creation so far and its secrecy around expenditures.
“Two years ago, our local elected officials were fighting to get into the photonics spotlight,” the newspaper wrote. “Those very same leaders should be engaged every step of the way, demanding transparency and accountability from AIM Photonics, making sure that our dollars are being invested wisely, and providing concrete reasons to believe that our patience will pay off.”
Advised of the tweet that may have prompted the block, @JudyCheesey replied, “Seriously? Is blocked code for blinders on? They’d [do] better to pay attention to the message.” (We could not verify the user’s identity, though she did assure us in an email “that I am not a bot[,] a Russian or anything of that kind!” We suspect, at minimum, she would pass the Turing test.)
In recent months, public officials blocking constituents on social media has become an increasingly talked-about issue. In July, a free-speech group affiliated with Columbia University sued President Donald Trump over the practice, perhaps the most potentially consequential manifestation of what news outlet ProPublica previously described as “a new-age legal debate over whether losing this form of access to public officials violates constituents’ First Amendment rights to free speech and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
We were unblocked on or around Aug. 30 by @AIMPhotonics. Also appearing on the blocked list we obtained is @KingAndrewCuomo, a parody account that, according to its bio, tweets about “the collapse of New York” and has already been blocked by several politicians, a solar energy company, and a newspaper editor.
In a press release last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that there is “already significant industry interest in using the capabilities” of the TAP facility in Rochester “once it is fully functional mid-2018.” AIM Photonics aims “to reduce energy consumption in data centers by supporting the replacement of copper wires with optical fiber; providing technology for optics in next generation (5G) wireless networks; helping develop the optical equivalent of radar which will facilitate the use of self-driving vehicles; and in partnership with the University of Rochester, the initiative is developing emerging optical sensors for medical and environmental applications,” the release explained.