Alaska Legislature debates new social media policy for legislators

The Alaska Legislature is debating whether to implement a new social media for lawmakers and what it should look like.
Published: Jul. 13, 2022 at 7:38 PM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

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

The current policy, which was written and implemented in 2011, is said to be out of date. It includes recommendations that legislators avoid using “inappropriate language” and correct errors on posts as quickly as possible, but it doesn’t address the more thorny practice of legislators blocking constituents from their social media pages or deleting comments.

The new draft policy, modeled off one used in Colorado, recommends that legislators’ personal social media accounts be kept private and that they don’t use those pages for any legislative business. Effectively, their private and public lives would be kept separate.

There would be two options for lawmakers’ official legislative social media pages. The first would be to operate them like bulletin boards where information could be posted but comments from constituents 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 legislators: “Everything goes or nothing goes is the safest way to avoid litigation.”

Since 2011, several Alaska legislators have been sued on First Amendment grounds for blocking constituents from accessing their social media pages and deleting comments on posts. A legislative ethics committee found probable cause last year that Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold likely violated state statute by blocking a constituent on Facebook, which prompted calls for a social media policy update.

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

State legislatures across the country are grappling with the question of whether legislators’ personal and official social media pages should be considered public forums for debate and how they should be managed. That question hasn’t yet been settled in Alaska’s state courts.

Sen. 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 it goes “overboard” by giving instructions on how lawmakers should operate their personal social media accounts.

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

Legislative Council, which acts on behalf of the Legislature as a whole, did not make a final decision on a new social media policy for legislators; that is expected to be finalized at a later date.

Copyright 2022 KTUU. All rights reserved.