In recent weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s relationship with the press has seemed particularly fractious—but at least he does not block any reporters, political adversaries, or anyone else (even bots!) on Twitter, according to his office’s response to a Freedom of Information Law request from The Alt.
The @NYGovCuomo account also does not “mute” any keywords or anyone it follows, Cuomo FOIL counsel Valerie Lubanko said in a Dec. 19 letter.
“We are one New York,” spokesman Rich Azzopardi said in a statement.
State leaders blocking constituents on social media is not unheard of. Earlier this month, for instance, nonprofit news outlet ProPublica, having requested block lists associated with official Facebook and Twitter accounts of every governor in the United States, reported that Kentucky’s governor had blocked 652 accounts across the two platforms.
In October, The Alt reported that a SUNY Polytechnic Institute-linked manufacturing consortium had blocked several dozen users, including this reporter, on Twitter.
In addition to @NYGovCuomo’s block and mute lists, we had sought copies of an array of pages or data accessible to anyone operating the Twitter account, including the “Audience Insights” page, which purports to show followers’ categorized interests and demographic information.
We also asked for copies of @NYGovCuomo’s column settings in TweetDeck, a dashboard integrated with Twitter that allows users to filter and track tweets. We thought this might shed light on who or what the governor’s communications team monitors.
But Lubanko, Cuomo’s FOIL counsel, said these items are not “records as defined by [state law], as they are not maintained by the Executive Chamber, and your request would require that records be prepared or created.” Even if, for argument’s sake, these items were in fact records, they would be exempt from release, Lubanko added, quoting from the statute, because their disclosure “would jeopardize” the executive chamber’s ability “to guarantee the security of its information technology assets.”
Officials at the state Committee on Open Government, which oversees FOIL, found the information-security rationale dubious but said the question of whether the items requested constitute “records” is difficult to answer.
The law defines a record as “any information kept, held, filed, produced or reproduced by, with or for an agency” in any physical form. Twitter maintains the records we requested—but does it do this “for” the executive chamber?
Robert Freeman, the state committee’s longtime director, said perhaps the most analogous kind of situation involves text messages. If an agency itself possesses texts pertaining to official business requested under FOIL, then it must provide them. But if the texts can only be obtained from the communications carrier, they might not be records, since the company stores the texts not for the government but for its own business- or billing-related purposes.
Reports produced by consultants retained by agencies can be subject to FOIL, even if the report remains only in the consultant’s possession, Freeman said. But it’s not immediately clear if or how that might apply to an agency’s account with a free service like Twitter.
“We’re in sort of a brave new world here,” said Freeman. “The kind of request you’re making…is unusual but certainly not unheard of. It’s becoming more prevalent.”
Read the response letters to our requests below: