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Fifth Circuit upholds Texas’ ridiculous social media censorship law

Back to you, SCOTUS.

A Texas law prohibiting large social media companies from banning users’ posts based on their political viewpoints will go into effect after a federal appeals court on Friday lifted a block placed on the statute.

NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association sued Texas after the law, known as House Bill 20, was passed last year, arguing that internet companies have a First Amendment right to curate content posted on their platforms and decide which types of speech they saw fit to be there.

In its ruling, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that the law was unconstitutional, saying they were seeking protection to “muzzle free speech.”

“Today we reject the idea that corporations have a freewheeling First Amendment right to censor what people say,” the ruling says.

The CCIA said the ruling forced tech companies to give equal treatment to all manners of speech, including extremist views.

“We strongly disagree with the court’s decision. Forcing private companies to give equal treatment to all viewpoints on their platforms places foreign propaganda and extremism on equal footing with decent Internet users, and places Americans at risk,” the group said. “‘God Bless America’ and ‘Death to America’ are both viewpoints, and it is unwise and unconstitutional for the State of Texas to compel a private business to treat those the same.”

See here for the previous update, in which SCOTUS blocked the law pending the Fifth Circuit’s ruling on the appeal, and here for a copy of the opinion. I think this sums it all up:

You and me both. We’ve now reached that point, and as everyone expects this to be appealed it will be back to SCOTUS for the final word. I have no idea what to expect. The Chron has more.

Is he Elon Musk’s lawyer now?

Someone please explain this to me.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday he is investigating Twitter over its reporting of how many accounts on the platform are from bots and fake users, saying the company may be misrepresenting the number to inflate its value and raise its revenue.

Twitter has claimed in its financial regulatory filings that less than 5% of its daily active users are spam accounts. But Paxton on Monday alleged that spam accounts could make up as much as 20% of users or more.

“Bot accounts can not only reduce the quality of users’ experience on the platform but may also inflate the value of the company and the costs of doing business with it, thus directly harming Texas consumers and businesses,” Paxton said.

False reporting of fake users could be considered “false, misleading, or deceptive” under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, he said. Paxton sent Twitter a civil investigative demand, requiring the social media company to turn over documents related to how it calculates and manages its user data.

Twitter could not be immediately reached for comment on the investigation.

The investigation comes as Tesla CEO Elon Musk is also raising questions about the number of fake accounts on Twitter. Musk, who is in negotiations to buy the social media company, threatened to walk away from the deal saying that Twitter has not provided data he has requested on spam accounts.

I mean, I guess this could be a matter of interest for the state of Texas under its Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Hard for me to believe that it’s of such urgency right now as to merit action from the Attorney General – the question of how many fake Twitter accounts there are is as old as Twitter is – and of course the fact that it coincides with Elon Musk’s performance art bid to buy Twitter, which if there’s any justice in the world will cause him serious financial pain, makes it even less credible. But hey, surely we can take Ken Paxton’s word for it, right?

I do want to call your attention to the fact that what Paxton has actually done is to send Twitter a “civil investigative demand” for this info. Do you know what that means? Well, I now do, thanks to some research I did when a previous lawsuit filed by Twitter against Paxton, who had been demanding information about their ban of The Former Guy, was dismissed by a California judge. Paxton has made a similar “civil investigative demand”, and the judge ruled that Twitter had no cause to sue over this because a “civil investigative demand” is what the legal folks call “self-executing”, which is a fancy way of saying “completely voluntary”. Twitter was free to ignore the CID by Paxton, who would have had to sue them in federal court to enforce it, with Twitter then having the opportunity to argue that he had no jurisdiction over them in this matter.

That all sure sounds familiar here. If that’s the case – and Paxton clearly knows this – then what we have here is just a bit of trolling, plus some sucking up to another rich dude that Paxton likes. If you want to make the argument that this is a thing the state’s top lawyer ought to be doing, you go right ahead. Reform Austin has more.

Social media monitoring is not a solution to school shootings

While current Republican “solutions” for gun violence include door control and arming teachers, one “solution” that has been in place for the past few years has been monitoring social media for signs of gun-related threats. That was in place in Uvalde, and it was not effective.

After a shooter killed 21 people, including 19 children, in the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, last week, the United States is yet again confronting the devastating impact of gun violence. While lawmakers have so far failed to pass meaningful reform, schools are searching for ways to prevent a similar tragedy on their own campuses. Recent history, as well as government spending records, indicate that one of the most common responses from education officials is to invest in more surveillance technology.

In recent years, schools have installed everything from facial recognition software to AI-based tech, including programs that purportedly detect signs of brandished weapons and online screening tools that scan students’ communications for mentions of potential violence. The startups selling this tech have claimed that these systems can help school officials intervene before a crisis happens or respond more quickly when one is occurring. Pro-gun politicians have also advocated for this kind of technology, and argued that if schools implement enough monitoring, they can prevent mass shootings.

The problem is that there’s very little evidence that surveillance technology effectively stops these kinds of tragedies. Experts even warn that these systems can create a culture of surveillance at schools that harms students. At many schools, networks of cameras running AI-based software would join other forms of surveillance that schools already have, like metal detectors and on-campus police officers.

“In an attempt to stop, let’s say, a shooter like what happened at Uvalde, those schools have actually extended a cost to the students that attend them,” Odis Johnson Jr, the executive director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Safe and Healthy Schools, told Recode. “There are other things we now have to consider when we seek to fortify our schools, which makes them feel like prisons and the students themselves feel like suspects.”

[…]

Even before the mass shooting in Uvalde, many schools in Texas had already installed some form of surveillance tech. In 2019, the state passed a law to “harden” schools, and within the US, Texas has the most contracts with digital surveillance companies, according to an analysis of government spending data conducted by the Dallas Morning News. The state’s investment in “security and monitoring” services has grown from $68 per student to $113 per student over the past decade, according to Chelsea Barabas, an MIT researcher studying the security systems deployed at Texas schools. Spending on social work services, however, grew from $25 per student to just $32 per student during the same time period. The gap between these two areas of spending is widest in the state’s most racially diverse school districts.

The Uvalde school district had already acquired various forms of security tech. One of those surveillance tools is a visitor management service sold by a company called Raptor Technologies. Another is a social media monitoring tool called Social Sentinel, which is supposed to “identify any possible threats that might be made against students and or staff within the school district,” according to a document from the 2019-2020 school year.

It’s so far unclear exactly which surveillance tools may have been in use at Robb Elementary School during the mass shooting. JP Guilbault, the CEO of Social Sentinel’s parent company, Navigate360, told Recode that the tool plays “an important role as an early warning system beyond shootings.” He claimed that Social Sentinel can detect “suicidal, homicidal, bullying, and other harmful language that is public and connected to district-, school-, or staff-identified names as well as social media handles and hashtags associated with school-identified pages.”

“We are not currently aware of any specific links connecting the gunman to the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District or Robb Elementary on any public social media sites,” Guilbault added. The Uvalde gunman did post ominous photos of two rifles on his Instagram account before the shooting, but there’s no evidence that he publicly threatened any of the schools in the district. He privately messaged a girl he did not know that he planned to shoot an elementary school.

Any kind of surveillance involves a tradeoff between privacy and security. So far, the security gains from software like this are small, while the loss of privacy – which to be clear here is the privacy of children – is significant.

For privacy advocates, the lack of evidence for the technology’s effectiveness means that there are no sufficient grounds for the potential violations of privacy that come with its use. Hye Jung Han, a researcher at Human Rights Watch specializing in child rights, told The Verge that using surveillance technology on children could cause unwarranted harm:

“Could you imagine schools using toxic materials to build classrooms, even if it hadn’t met any safety standards? No,” said Han. “Similarly, to use unproven, untested surveillance technologies on children, without first checking whether they are safe to use, exposes children to an unacceptable risk of harm.”

Multiple requests for comment sent to Navigate360 — which acquired Social Sentinel in 2020 — did not receive a response.

The Uvalde school district was confirmed to have purchased monitoring capability from Social Sentinel in 2019–2020, though it is unclear whether the subscription was still active at the time of the shooting. However, even if it had been, the technology would have been unlikely to flag any of the shooter’s posts. There are now numerous reports of concerning activity surrounding the shooter’s online activity: he allegedly made frequent threats to young women and girls via chat apps, sent images of guns to acquaintances, and reportedly discussed carrying out the school shooting in an Instagram chat. But Social Sentinel is only able to monitor public posts and would not have had access to any content shared in private messages.

At the same time, there are significant privacy concerns with the software. In 2019, the Brennan Center for Justice outlined a range of civil and human rights concerns stemming from expanded social media monitoring in K-12 schools, among them the questionable effectiveness of the technology in combination with a tendency to disproportionately impact students from minority communities. In the same year, reporting by Education Week also covered the dramatic expansion of digital surveillance in schools, highlighting the large number of false positives generated by Social Sentinel’s technology. (Alerts were reportedly triggered by tweets about the Mark Wahlberg movie, Shooter and from a student pleased their credit score was “shooting up,” among other things.)

Of all US states, Texas has been the most enthusiastic about the use of digital surveillance for school children. A 2021 investigation by The Dallas Morning News found that no state has more school districts contracting with digital surveillance companies than Texas. But of the Texas districts that did take out these contracts, results were apparently mixed: a number of school districts that had paid for Social Sentinel told the Morning News that they had declined to renew contracts, describing a service that provided few actionable alerts or flagged mostly irrelevant information.

But while Social Sentinel advertises an ability to monitor a broad range of platforms, there’s some suggestion that its surveillance capabilities are dictated more by the accessibility of data sources than by their importance. A client presentation from the company shared by the EFF lists a range of social media sources for monitoring, including Instagram, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, Tumblr, WordPress, and even Meetup.

Data obtained by BuzzFeed News confirmed this through data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, which showed the company skewed heavily towards Twitter monitoring. Of the 1,206 Social Sentinel alerts provided to BuzzFeed, 98 percent (1,180) related to tweets — even though Instagram, YouTube, and even Facebook are more widely used by younger demographics. But the conventions of Twitter — where the vast majority of posts are publicly visible, even unintentionally — mean that it is comparatively easier to monitor, providing a wealth of social media data on tap that can be assimilated by companies looking to boost their surveillance credentials.

The DMN reports that some of the school districts that kicked the tires on Social Sentinel later decided it wasn’t worth it.

Uvalde is among at least 52 school districts and three colleges in Texas that have used the Social Sentinel service, according to records from GovSpend, an organization that tracks state and local government spending. It has also been used by dozens of colleges and hundreds of school districts nationwide.

Uvalde purchased Social Sentinel in August 2019, according to GovSpend. A document from the 2019-2020 school year lists the service as one of the district’s “preventative security measures.”

“UCISD utilizes Social Sentinel to monitor all social media with a connection to Uvalde as a measure to identify any possible threats that might be made against students and or staff within the school district,” the document reads.

The district made two payments to the company totaling more than $9,900, the data show.

Several Texas districts that have used Social Sentinel complained the service was mostly ineffective. The News reached out to every school district that used Social Sentinel, including Uvalde, for comment last year. Clear Creek ISD, a district outside of Houston, used the service in the 2018-19 school year but soon canceled.

“The Clear Creek Independent School District discontinued the use of Social Sentinel in its first year,” Elaina Polsen, Clear Creek’s chief communications officer, told The News last year. “The District determined the service just did not meet our needs, and we were receiving far stronger information through our anonymous tip line.”

Representatives from Keller, Lewisville, Mineral Wells and Schertz-Cibolo school districts also said the service provided them with few alerts or alerts that contained mostly irrelevant information.

HISD does not appear to have been a user of Social Sentinel, so we’ve got that going for us. There are other companies with similar products out there, so be on the lookout for that kind of pitch. It’s not out of the question to me that a tool like this could be effective at some point (we would still have to debate the privacy impact, and I can just about guarantee that it won’t be good), but we’re not there yet and it may be awhile before we can reasonably broach the subject. In the meantime, I dunno, maybe ban assault weapons again like we did in the 90s? Worked pretty well back then, and it didn’t involve snooping on things kids were saying among themselves. Just a thought.

(FYI, I first heard about Social Sentinel and its connection to Uvalde on the What Next podcast. I went looking for the DMN story from there, and found the others in the same search.)

SCOTUS puts Texas’ stupid social media censorship law back on hold

Good.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked a Texas law that prohibits large social media companies, such as Facebook or Twitter, from banning or removing users’ posts based on political viewpoints.

The justices, in a 5-4 vote, granted NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association’s request to reinstate a block imposed by a federal district judge as the lawsuit makes its way through the courts. The justices who voted to reverse the lower court’s ruling didn’t give a reason for their decision — a standard practice when the court is ruling on emergency applications.

Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, one of the two groups that sued to block the law on claims that it violates companies’ First Amendment rights, celebrated the court’s decision.

“No online platform, website, or newspaper should be directed by government officials to carry certain speech,” he said in a statement. “This has been a key tenet of our democracy for more than 200 years and the Supreme Court has upheld that.”

[…]

The two industry trade groups that represent companies such as Google and Twitter sued to block the law last fall. In December, a federal district court judge ruled in favor of the groups and prevented the law from going into effect, reasoning that the First Amendment protects a company’s right to moderate content and calling parts of the law “prohibitively vague.”

As a result, Paxton appealed the district judge’s decision to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reinstated the law.

Three conservative justices, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch, said in a dissent that they would have let Texas’ law stand for now. Justice Elena Kagan, a liberal, said she would have also let the order stand but didn’t provide a reason.

Alito wrote in the dissent that it is “not at all obvious how our existing precedents, which predate the age of the internet, should apply to large social media companies.” Still, he wrote, the case is “of great importance” and the Supreme Court would have to review the arguments at some point.

“Social media platforms have transformed the way people communicate with each other and obtain news,” he wrote. “At issue is a ground-breaking Texas law that addresses the power of dominant social media corporations to shape public discussion of the important issues of the day.”

See here for the previous update and here for a copy of the order. With the Florida law being knocked down by the 11th Court of Appeals, there’s a circuit split, which means that Alito is correct and SCOTUS is going to have to deal with this sooner or later. At least it will be on hold until then. The Chron has more.

Florida’s stupid social media censorship law knocked down by appeals court

With an opinion from a Trump judge, no less.

A Florida law intended to punish social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment, a federal appeals court ruled Monday, dealing a major victory to companies who had been accused by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis of discriminating against conservative thought.

A three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously concluded that it was overreach for DeSantis and the Republican-led Florida Legislature to tell the social media companies how to conduct their work under the Constitution’s free speech guarantee.

“Put simply, with minor exceptions, the government can’t tell a private person or entity what to say or how to say it,” said Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, in the opinion. “We hold that it is substantially likely that social media companies — even the biggest ones — are private actors whose rights the First Amendment protects.”

The ruling upholds a similar decision by a Florida federal district judge on the law, which was signed by DeSantis in 2021. It was part of an overall conservative effort to portray social media companies as generally liberal in outlook and hostile to ideas outside of that viewpoint, especially from the political right.

[…]

As enacted, the law would give Florida’s attorney general authority to sue companies under the state’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. It would also allow individual Floridians to sue social media companies for up to $100,000 if they feel they’ve been treated unfairly.

The bill targeted social media platforms that have more than 100 million monthly users, which include online giants as Twitter and Facebook. But lawmakers carved out an exception for the Walt Disney Co. and their apps by including that theme park owners wouldn’t be subject to the law.

The law would require large social media companies to publish standards on how it decides to “censor, deplatform, and shadow ban.”

But the appeals court rejected nearly all of the law’s mandates, save for a few lesser provisions in the law.

“Social media platforms exercise editorial judgment that is inherently expressive. When platforms choose to remove users or posts, deprioritize content in viewers’ feeds or search results, or sanction breaches of their community standards, they engage in First-Amendment-protected activity,” Newsom wrote for the court.

You can see a copy of the ruling here, and contrast it to the wordless garbage the Fifth Circuit spewed out to allow Texas’ law to stand. This means that SCOTUS will have to get involved to resolve the dispute. It’s going to get ugly in here. Reuters, CNET, and Techdirt, which shows the parts of the lower court’s ruling that were upheld and the parts that were vacated, have more.

Texas asks SCOTUS to not block its stupid social media law

As you’d expect.

The Supreme Court should allow a sweeping Texas law to remain in effect that restricts the ability of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to moderate their platforms, according to the state’s attorney general.

In a filing to the Court on Wednesday, Texas argued that its law, HB 20, which prohibits large social media firms from blocking, banning or demoting posts or accounts, does not violate the First Amendment.

It contrasts with claims by opponents, including the tech industry, that the legislation infringes on the constitutional rights of tech platforms to make editorial decisions and to be free from government-compelled speech.

[…]

A group of states led by Florida has also submitted a Court filing defending Texas’s law. The friend-of-the-court brief, which was authored by a dozen states including Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky and South Carolina, among others, reflects how the legal battle over HB 20 has nationwide ramifications.

Justice Samuel Alito is currently considering whether to grant an emergency stay of a lower court decision that had allowed the law to take effect last week. The law is being challenged by advocacy groups representing the tech industry.

[…]

The case has already drawn “friend of the court” briefs from interested third parties including groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, who urged the court to block the law, arguing it will “transform social media platforms into online repositories of vile, graphic, harmful, hateful, and fraudulent content, of no utility to the individuals who currently engage in those communities.”

Also seeking to file a third-party brief was former Rep. Chris Cox, co-author of the tech platform liability shield known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a federal law that explicitly permits websites to moderate content and which has become a lightning rod in the wider battle over digital speech.

Social media operators have repeatedly cited Section 230 to successfully nip many suits in the bud concerning user-generated content. But HB 20 conflicts with Section 230 by saying platforms can be sued in Texas for moderating their online communities, raising questions about the future of the federal law that’s been described as “the 26 words that created the internet.”

See here and here for some background. Alito will either issue a decision on his own or refer the matter to the full court. Insert shrug emoji here.

SCOTUS asked to again block that stupid social media censorship law

Please save us from the lawless Fifth Circuit. Having to make such an ask of this SCOTUS sure is a jaw-grinding experience.

Lobbying groups representing Facebook, Twitter, Google and other tech companies filed an emergency request with the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, seeking to block a Texas law that prohibits large social media platforms from banning users based on their political views.

The Texas law went into effect on Wednesday when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the state’s request for a stay of a district judge’s injunction blocking the law.

The law forbids social media companies with more than 50 million active users per month from banning members based on their political views and requires them to publicly disclose how they moderate content.

[…]

Internet lobbying groups NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association filed a lawsuit against the measure, and U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin, Texas, issued a preliminary injunction in December.

Pitman had found that the law would harm social media companies’ free speech rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The tech groups, in their emergency request, asked the Supreme Court to “allow the District Court’s careful reasoning to remain in effect while an orderly appellate process plays out.”

See here for the previous update, and here for a more detailed analysis of why the Fifth Circuit’s no-words ruling was so bad. You know how much faith I have in this court to ever do the right thing, but maybe this was a bridge too far. Maybe. Ars Technica and The Verge have more.

That stupid social media censorship law has been unblocked

The Fifth Circuit continues to debase itself.

A federal appeals court on Wednesday reinstated a Republican-backed Texas law that prohibits large social media companies from banning users over their political viewpoints.

The decision hands a win to Republicans who have long criticized social media platforms such as Twitter for what they call anti-conservative bias — disapproval that was amplified when President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter for violating the platform’s rules on inciting violence during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The order did not evaluate the law on its constitutionality but instead allows the law to go back into effect while the case proceeds in district court, according to a statement from one of the plaintiff groups. The ruling came from a three-judge panel on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which is often considered the most conservative appeals court in the country — and was not accompanied by a written opinion explaining the decision at the time of publication.

Two large industry trade groups that represent companies such as Google and Twitter sued to block the law last fall.

In December, a federal district court judge ruled in favor of the groups and blocked the law while the lawsuit continues, reasoning that the First Amendment protects a company’s right to moderate content and called parts of the law “prohibitively vague.” As a result, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the district judge’s decision to the circuit court.

Passed during a special session last year, House Bill 20 also requires social media platforms with more than 50 million monthly users to publicly disclose information about content removal and account suspensions.

“HB 20 is an assault on the First Amendment, and it’s constitutionally rotten from top to bottom,” Chris Marchese, counsel for the NetChoice industry trade group, tweeted after the ruling. “So of course we’re going to appeal today’s unprecedented, unexplained, and unfortunate order by a split 2-1 panel.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I’ve been beaten down by the constant flow of atrocities from this outlaw court, so I’m going to hand it off to one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys:

Which means we have to hope there are still a few people on that bench who understand what the First Amendment says. I don’t have any faith, but what are you gonna do? Slate and Reform Austin have more.

Social media censorship law blocked

For now. As long as the outlaw Fifth Circuit exists, we can’t say more than that.

A federal judge on Wednesday blocked a Texas law that seeks to restrict how social media companies moderate their content and was championed by Republicans who say the platforms are biased against conservatives.

The law, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on Sept. 9, would ban platforms with more than 50 million monthly users in the U.S. from removing a user over a “viewpoint” and require them to publicly report information about content removal and account suspensions. It was set to take effect Dec. 2.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman wrote that the First Amendment protects social media platforms’ right to moderate content and rejected the defendants’ argument that such companies are “common carriers.” Pitman also ruled that some aspects of the law were “prohibitively vague.”

“This Court is convinced that social media platforms, or at least those covered by [House Bill] 20, curate both users and content to convey a message about the type of community the platform seeks to foster and, as such, exercise editorial discretion over their platform’s content,” Pitman wrote.

[…]

Supporters of the law say it ensures that users’ political views go uncensored. State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park — who authored the bill, known as House Bill 20 — compared tech companies to “common carriers” like phone companies or cable providers, which are barred from customer discrimination.

But a federal judge who blocked a similar Florida law in June said such comparisons aren’t accurate. Thomas Leatherbury, the director of the First Amendment Clinic at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, told The Texas Tribune in September that the Texas law is “clearly unconstitutional,” with the same flaws as the Florida law “and then some.”

By targeting only the largest social media platforms, Leatherbury said the law violates the equal protection clause. The law largely prohibits electronic mail service providers from blocking messages based on their content, which Leatherbury said restricts email services’ First Amendment rights.

See here and here for the background. You can see the court order here, some commentary on it here, and NetChoice’s press release here. As with all things, Texas is sure to go running to the Fifth Circuit to get them to ratify their lawlessness, and the usual bet is that the Fifth Circuit will provide room service for them. Maybe this time it will be different since the law attacks businesses instead of just people, but conservatives have decided those particular businesses are Bad for them, so the usual bet is still probably the correct one. But for now, at least this is one terrible new law that won’t get a chance to be enforced. For now.

Social media censorship lawsuit has its day in court

It’s a very dumb law that will hopefully be stopped before it takes effect tomorrow.

Lawyers for two large tech industry groups appeared Monday in federal court in Austin to argue that Texas’ new social media law — inspired by Republican complaints that conservatives are ill-treated on Twitter, Facebook and other large platforms — should be blocked as unconstitutional.

Known as House Bill 20, the law lets social media users sue if they are blocked or their posts are removed based on the user’s viewpoint. It also gives companies two days to respond to user complaints about content removal and two weeks to handle appeals if users disagree with the action.

But lawyer Scott Keller argued that the law should be blocked from taking effect Thursday because it violates the First Amendment free speech right of social media companies to monitor, screen and delete content published on their platforms.

Instead, Keller said, the law requires platforms to continue publishing posts that violate their terms of service, including those that glorify Nazis or spread medical misinformation.

“This is a striking assertion of government power,” he told U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman during a two-hour in-person hearing Monday in downtown Austin. “The First Amendment protects editorial discretion.”

HB 20 also creates an onerous set of regulations on complaints and appeals that would be impossible to meet, Keller argued, noting that in a three-month period earlier this year, YouTube removed 9.5 million videos and 1.16 billion comments for violating decency and other standards.

But Assistant Attorney General Courtney Corbello argued that the law does not stop social media companies from prohibiting certain types of content.

“HB 20 says continue to have your policies, continue to prohibit the content the way you want to, just don’t discriminate against people,” she said. “HB 20 prohibits viewpoint discrimination. It does not prohibit content moderation.”

Corbello also disputed claims that the law is onerous, noting that Facebook and YouTube already inform users when content is removed and have an appeals process in place to resolve disagreements.

See here for the background. I may have been wrong about the timing of the slapdown on this dumb law, but I don’t think I’m wrong about the outcome. This time I can point to someone with fancy law credentials who also thinks this law is trash and the lawsuit will succeed – see here for the analysis of HB20, and here for his thoughts on the filings. There are other analyses of the law and similar ones in equally ridiculous states like Florida, which you should read, and there’s this resource page from NetChoice, one of the plaintiffs, if you really want to go deep. As I said, this and other laws from the special session go into effect tomorrow, so expect there to be something in short order.

Lawsuit filed over our very dumb new social media “censorship” law

So very dumb.

Texas is being sued over its new law barring social media platforms from banning users over their political views by two trade associations that represent some of the industry’s biggest online companies.

NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which represent Google and Twitter, among other companies in the e-commerce and social media industries, filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking a federal judge to block the law.

Under the law, which was passed by the Legislature as House Bill 20, and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on Sept. 9, social media platforms with over 50 million monthly users in the U.S. — a threshold that includes Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube — must publicly report details about content removal and account suspensions biannually. The platforms are also required to establish an easily accessible complaint system, where users could flag violations of the law.

Supporters of the bill said it was a necessary step to ensure users’ viewpoints aren’t censored and people who are blocked have a path for recourse.

The state cannot force platforms to host content they wouldn’t otherwise host, the presidents of NetChoice and CCIA said in a Tuesday meeting with reporters. The law threatens the safety of users, creators and businesses that use platforms to reach their audiences, said NetChoice President and CEO Steve DelBianco.

“They can’t be forced to carry content that violates the community standards that they use to curate a community of online content that suits their advertisers and audience,” DelBianco said.

[…]

This lawsuit isn’t the first of its kind for NetChoice and CCIA. In May, the groups sued to block a similar measure in Florida, which became the first state to regulate tech companies’ speech. In June, a federal judge granted the request to block the enforcement of the law.

DelBianco said the First Amendment flaws outlined by the judge in Florida’s case “match pretty closely” to the Texas law.

I didn’t blog about this while it was happening because it was dumb. It was more performance art in a legislative session that was all about grievances and wingnut wish lists. This law will almost certainly die a quiet but expensive-to-defend death without ever being enforced, and we will all get on with our lives. And we will all be a little bit dumber because of it.

Paxton agrees to unblock Twitter critics

Our long national nightmare is over.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will no longer block ​users from his personal account for expressing “First Amendment-protected viewpoints” as part of an agreement to end a lawsuit where plaintiffs say they were unconstitutionally blocked for criticizing him or his policies on the platform, according to a filing late Friday in a federal court in Austin.

Paxton had already unblocked the named plaintiffs of the lawsuit in May, a month after the lawsuit was filed, but the latest filing confirmed he has now unblocked any other accounts. The ACLU of Texas, a freedom of speech organization that represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit along with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University called the agreement “an important victory for Texans’ First Amendment rights.”

“We’re pleased that Attorney General Paxton has agreed to stop blocking people from his Twitter account simply because he doesn’t like what they have to say,” Katie Fallow, a senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute, said in a prepared statement. “Multiple courts have recognized that government officials who use their social media accounts for official purposes violate the First Amendment if they block people from those accounts on the basis of viewpoint. What Paxton was doing was unconstitutional.”

See here and here for the background. Statements from the ACLU of Texas and Knight First Amendment Institute have the remaining details. Paxton had already agreed to unblock the nine plaintiffs, and the law was clearly against him, so this was the only way out for him that didn’t involve getting slam-dunked by a federal judge. It’s a molehill in the grand scheme of things, but nowadays we should celebrate any time the rules are made to apply to schmucks like Paxton.

Twitter lawsuit against Paxton dismissed

That’s not quite the end of it, though.

Best mugshot ever

A federal judge in California on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit brought by Twitter against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose legal efforts to investigate the social media platform after it suspended President Donald Trump’s account led the company to sue.

Twitter’s lawsuit included a request for a temporary restraining order that would keep Paxton and his office from enforcing a demand that seeks documents revealing the company’s internal decision making processes for banning users. Judge Maxine M. Chesney said the company’s legal action was “premature.”

Paxton, a passionate supporter of Trump, sent Twitter a civil investigative demand after it banned Trump from its platform following January’s deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol. Twitter wrote in its suit responding to Paxton that it sought to stop him “from unlawfully abusing his authority as the highest law-enforcement officer of the State of Texas to intimidate, harass, and target Twitter in retaliation for Twitter’s exercise of its First Amendment rights.”

The company claimed Paxton’s “retaliatory” investigation violated the First Amendment as an inappropriate use of government authority.

“Twitter’s lawsuit was little more than an attempt to avoid answering my questions about their large-scale censorship and content-moderation policies,” Paxton said in a statement Tuesday.

See here and here for the background. I Am Not A Lawyer, but when I see that the suit was dismissed because it was “premature”, that says to me this didn’t have to do with the merits or legality of the suit, just the timing. The Trib story doesn’t give any explanation of that, so I looked around and eventually found this AP story, which answered my question.

In her Tuesday ruling, Senior U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney of San Francisco ruled that Paxton’s administrative summonses were not “self-executing,” meaning that Twitter was not bound to comply with them absent a court order.

In her seven-page opinion, Chesney noted that Paxton had taken no court action to enforce his summonses and that Twitter was not bound to comply with them without court action. So, she dismissed Twitter’s suit, noting that its request for an injunction or court declaration against Paxton was premature.

Law and Crime explains further.

Paxton’s office issued civil investigative demands (CID)—subpoena-like requests for information— to Twitter, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, seeking the companies’ content moderation policies and practices. The Texas attorney general, who has been under the legal microscope himself due to securities fraud charges and allegations of briberysaid that for years the tech companies “have silenced voices in the social media sphere and shut down competing companies and platforms,” couching his concern as a First Amendment issue that “chills free speech.”

Twitter responded by suing Paxton in the U.S. District Court for Northern California, seeking an injunction barring the AG from “initiating any action” to enforce the investigatory demands and a declaration that the probe is barred by the First Amendment as “unlawful retaliation against Twitter for its moderation of its platform, including its decision to permanently suspend President Trump’s account.”

In a seven-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Maxine M. Chesney, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, found that Paxton opening a probe and issuing CIDs to Twitter did not amount to a “cognizable adverse action” against the company as required for a First Amendment retaliation claim.

Chesney reasoned that, unlike subpoenas, CIDs like the one issued by the attorney general’s office, are not “self-executing” discovery instruments, meaning that they can be ignored, without penalty, unless an additional court order is sought.

“[T]he Office of the Attorney General has no authority to impose any sanction for a failure to comply with its investigation. Rather, the Office of the Attorney General would be required to go to court, where the only possible consequence adverse to Twitter would be a judicial finding that the CID, contrary to Twitter’s assertion, is enforceable,” Chesney wrote. “Accordingly, as, to date, no action has been taken to enforce the CID, the Court finds Twitter’s lawsuit is premature, and, as such, is subject to dismissal.”

In other words, because Twitter is not currently obligated to comply with Paxton’s demand for access to its communications and moderation policies, it’s too early in the legal process for a federal court to decide the controversy on the merits.

Should Paxton pursue a court order, Twitter would likely make the same arguments regarding the investigation being barred as unlawful retaliation under the First Amendment, resulting in a merit-based ruling.

I think that’s pretty clear. I hadn’t realized that Paxton had taken the same action with those other companies, who I guess either decided to ignore them or wait and see what happened with the Twitter case. In any event, now they all know – this is just sound and fury, at least for now. We’ll see if Paxton raises the ante, or if making the news was all he was interested in.

Paxton unblocks Twitter users who sued him

Blink.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has unblocked on Twitter the nine Texans who sued him after they say they were unconstitutionally blocked for criticizing him or his policies on the social media platform.

In a lawsuit filed in April, a group of Texans said being blocked from viewing Paxton’s tweets from his @KenPaxtonTX account was a violation of the First Amendment because it limited the rights of people to participate in a public forum and access statements made by the public official.

The ACLU of Texas and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University represented the Texans in their lawsuit. According to their statements from a Thursday press release, Paxton has unblocked the nine Texans in the “ongoing lawsuit challenging Paxton’s practice of blocking critics from his Twitter account.”

Paxton has also “blocked many other individuals from the @KenPaxtonTX account based on their viewpoints,” according to the lawsuit. The plaintiffs had asked Paxton to unblock them and everyone else who was blocked from the @KenPaxtonTX account “based on their viewpoints,” but it’s unclear if people not named in the lawsuit have been unblocked.

Lyndsey Wajert, a legal fellow with the Knight First Amendment Institute, said while Paxton has unblocked the nine Texans, the case has not been dismissed.

See here for the background. It’s a strange lawsuit to be involved in when the prize for winning is to be able to see Ken Paxton’s tweets, but it’s the principle that matters, and on those grounds Paxton was clearly in the wrong. I’m not sure if there are just some technical aspects to clear up before this is dropped, or if there are still substantive matters to be decided, but we were going to get to this point sooner or later. Kudos to the plaintiffs and their lawyers.

UPDATE:

Clearly, not all issues are resolved.

Paxton sued by Twitter users

Maybe he should just get offline.

Best mugshot ever

A group of Texans and a free speech advocacy group are suing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in federal court, accusing him of unconstitutionally blocking nine people on Twitter for criticizing him or his policies on the platform.

The lawsuit also argues that being blocked from viewing Paxton’s tweets is a violation of the First Amendment because it limits the right of people to participate in a public forum and access statements made by Paxton. The account mentioned in the lawsuit, @KenPaxtonTX, is a separate account from the official account of the Office of the Texas Attorney General.

But Paxton uses the account to make official announcements, comment on local issues and defend his policies, according to the lawsuit.

“This information is relevant not just to the residents of Texas but to Americans more generally, given the national scope of many of the matters the Texas Attorney General’s office tackles,” the lawsuit says. “Those who are blocked from the @KenPaxtonTX account are impeded in their ability to learn information that is shared only through that account.”

[…]

According to the Texas lawsuit against Paxton, one plaintiff realized they were blocked after replying to a tweet from Paxton in January about a MAGA rally with “Enjoy the fresh air before you go to prison, Kenneth!” Another Twitter user learned they were blocked after replying with “wear a mask nerd” to Paxton’s tweet with a photo of him and another person at the Conservative Political Action Conference without masks, the lawsuit states.

Paxton’s action of blocking people who criticize him appears to be widespread, and he has “blocked many other individuals from the @KenPaxtonTX account based on their viewpoints,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit asks a federal court to order that Paxton’s action of blocking users based on their critical tweets violates the First Amendment. The plaintiffs are also asking for Paxton to unblock them and everyone else who was blocked from the @KenPaxtonTX account “based on their viewpoints.”

As the story notes, there was a successful lawsuit against Donald Trump for the same thing – a federal appeals court ruled that Trump violated the First Amendment when he blocked Twitter followers, on his personal account that was also used to make official announcements. The suit was ultimately mooted by SCOTUS following Trump’s electoral loss and banishment from Twitter, so the issue isn’t fully resolved. It sure sounds to me like these plaintiffs have a strong case, though. Paxton is also involved in a separate fight with Twitter, because that’s the world we live in these days. I will of course keep an eye on this. The Chron has more.

Paxton responds to Twitter lawsuit

He said something about it, anyway.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Wednesday that a lawsuit by Twitter won’t deter his office from investigating the content moderation practices of the social media giant and four other major technology companies.

Twitter sued the Republican official this week in an effort to halt his probe, which the company claimed was retaliation for banning the account of former President Donald Trump following the deadly January insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Days after the riot, Paxton announced an investigation of what he called “the seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President.” His office demanded a variety of records and internal communications from Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Apple.

On Monday, Twitter asked a federal judge in California to effectively stop the probe and affirm that its decision to ban Trump was protected by the First Amendment. Paxton responded Wednesday that “most of the companies have cooperated” and called Twitter’s suit “remarkable.”

“Apparently they have some fear of disclosing what they’re actually doing if they’re asking a California judge to rule on Texas law,” he said during an online forum hosted by the conservative Media Research Center. In its demand for records, Paxton’s office cited the authority of Texas’ Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act.

Lawyers for Twitter wrote in their complaint that the company had sought for weeks to “put reasonable limits on the scope” of Paxton’s demands but were unable to reach an agreement with his office. A spokeswoman for the company declined to comment Wednesday.

See here for the background. Not really much to add, but it gave me a second chance to see if I could find any analysis of the lawsuit. I did find this:

As previously noted by Law&Crime, Twitter is a private company and therefore has a First Amendment right to moderate its platform as it sees fit. The First Amendment also protects the company from having a government actor dictate how it operates its online platform, a point the company makes in the opening lines of the lawsuit.

“Twitter seeks to stop AG Paxton from unlawfully abusing his authority as the highest law-enforcement officer of the State of Texas to intimidate, harass, and target Twitter in retaliation for Twitter’s exercise of its First Amendment rights,” the lawsuit states. “The rights of free speech and of the press afforded Twitter under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution include the right to make decisions about what content to disseminate through its platform. This right specifically includes the discretion to remove or otherwise restrict access to Tweets, profiles, or other content posted to Twitter. AG Paxton may not compel Twitter to publish such content over its objection, and he may not penalize Twitter for exercising its right to exclude such content from its platform.”

A spokesperson for the company reiterated the free speech issue at the center of the controversy in a statement on Tuesday.

“A core part of Twitter’s mission is to protect freedom of expression and defend an Open Internet,” the statement read. “We work every day to protect those interests for the people who use our service around the world. The First Amendment protects everyone’s right to free speech, including private businesses.”

The company alleges it made several attempts to reach out to Paxton’s office to narrow the scope of the all-encompassing CID, but said the AG refused to budge.

“Instead, AG Paxton made clear that he will use the full weight of his office, including his expansive investigatory powers, to retaliate against Twitter for having made editorial decisions with which he disagrees,” the complaint states.

Seems pretty simple, but we’ll see what a judge says. I also found this Twitter thread that came to a similar conclusion, in response to some other guy claiming that Twitter’s lawsuit was garbage. So far my conclusion is that Twitter has the better argument, but I am open to someone who knows more about the law than me saying otherwise.

Twitter sues Paxton

How the tables have turned.

Best mugshot ever

Twitter filed a lawsuit against Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a California federal court Monday and asked a judge to halt the state’s top lawyer from investigating the company.

The social media giant’s court filings include a request for a temporary restraining order that would keep Paxton and his office from enforcing a demand that seeks documents revealing the company’s internal decision making processes for banning users, among other things.

Paxton, a fervent supporter of former President Donald Trump, sent the company a civil investigative demand after it banned Trump from its platform following January’s deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol.

Twitter wrote that it seeks to stop Paxton from “from unlawfully abusing his authority as the highest law-enforcement officer of the State of Texas to intimidate, harass, and target Twitter in retaliation for Twitter’s exercise of its First Amendment rights.” The company claimed Paxton’s “retaliatory” investigation violated the First Amendment as an inappropriate use of government authority.

[…]

The attorney general is among Texas Republican leaders who have launched a campaign against technology and social media companies after officials and followers faced repercussions for sowing the election doubts that fueled the Capitol insurrection.

Twitter is one of five tech and social media firms to which Paxton issued civil investigative demands to learn about the procedures such companies use to regulate postings or user accounts.

Paxton, who attended the rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol, criticized companies’ moves after the siege, which included Twitter banning Trump from its platform.

“The seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President of the United States and several leading voices not only chills free speech, it wholly silences those whose speech and political beliefs do not align with leaders of Big Tech companies,” Paxton said in a Jan. 13 news release.

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott touted Texas legislation that seeks to crack down on social media companies’ perceived censorship of conservative voices. Senate Bill 12 would prohibit social media companies — including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — from blocking, banning, demonetizing, or otherwise discriminating against a user based on their viewpoint or their location within Texas.

I’ve looked around but have not seen any legal analysis of this lawsuit, but Texas Lawyer adds some useful details.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Monday, asserts that Paxton issued a civil investigative demand just five days after the company announced its ban of Trump. The Attorney General’s Office demanded “volumes of highly confidential documents concerning Twitter’s internal content moderation processes—the public disclosure of which would undermine their effectiveness, and compromise Twitter’s ability to effectively and efficiently moderate content on its platform,” according to the complaint, which was surfaced by Law.com Radar.

Twitter alleges that Paxton violated the First Amendment by issuing the investigation targeting its editorial practices. The company says in the lawsuit that it attempted to work with Paxton to tailor the document requests but did not reach an agreement.

“Instead, AG Paxton made clear that he will use the full weight of his office, including his expansive investigatory powers, to retaliate against Twitter for having made editorial decisions with which he disagrees,” wrote Wilmer attorneys Patrick Carome, Ari Holtzblatt, Peter Neiman and Mark Flanagan. “Now Twitter, already targeted because of its protected activity, is left with the untenable choice to turn over highly sensitive documents or else face legal sanctions.”

Twitter is seeking an order declaring that Paxton violated the tech firm’s free speech rights and a temporary restraining order enjoining the office from continuing the investigation.

A Twitter representative said Paxton is misusing the powers of his office in an attempt to silence free speech. “As we’ve repeatedly stated, and recent research underscores, we enforce the Twitter Rules judiciously and impartially across our service,” the representative said in an email statement. “In the words of AG Paxton: ‘…[i]t is one thing to use the legal system to pursue public policy outcomes; but it is quite another to use prosecutorial weapons to intimidate critics, silence free speech, or chill the robust exchange of ideas.’”

You can see a copy of the lawsuit embedded in the story. Still no analysis, so I have no idea if it’s mostly noise that won’t survive a motion to dismiss or if it’s likely to succeed, but that helped. We do know that Paxton is a complete bootlicking toady for Donald Trump, and we do know that his lawsuit to try to overturn the election was trash, so it’s hardly a stretch to think that his “investigation” is something less than top-notch lawyering. I think we can also agree that SB12, if it manages to pass, will draw a multitude of lawsuits within days of it becoming law. I say pop the corn and enjoy the spectacle. Reform Austin and the Current have more.

Some Republican women unhappy about Sid Miller

Noted for the record.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

For many female Texans working in Republican politics, last month’s release of a video showing GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump boasting about groping women was bad enough. They have since watched in astonishment as male elected officials from their own state have engaged in coarse rhetoric of their own.

The simmer turned into a full rolling boil on Tuesday, when someone using state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s Twitter account used a four-letter word that is frequently described as “the worst word in the English language.”

“When I heard about the tweet, I was stunned,” said Jennifer Waisath Harris, an Austin-based public relations consultant with a long history with the GOP. “I have not been surprised with some of the words that came of the commissioner’s mouth … but it’s one of those words you just don’t utter.”

The consequences of what Miller’s camp describes as an accidental tweet, juxtaposed with both Trump’s tone and recent comments from two Texas congressmen, has the potential to run off an entire generation of the party’s female talent pool, according to several women with strong ties to the party in Texas. They’ve spent their careers fighting for hallmark conservative values including school choice, opposition to abortion, limited government and a strong national defense.

“I can’t believe he even employs anybody who would post such a thing if he didn’t do it himself,” wrote Elizabeth Ames Coleman, a former Texas Railroad Commission chairwoman who also served in the Texas House, in an email. “Is everybody just so desensitized by the barrage of gutter-level talk that they don’t recognize it anymore? How embarrassing to have any Texas elected official perpetuate this kind of discourse.”

See here for some background. The story goes on in that vein for awhile, and I’ll get back to it in a minute, but first let’s jump over to this Statesman story, which provides more context for Miller’s tweeting habits.

At 1:43 a.m. Tuesday, more than 12 hours before a tweet from Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s Twitter account referred to Hillary Clinton using a sexually explicit, derogatory term for women, Miller, or whoever was tweeting on his behalf at that hour in the morning, tweeted a question — “Can we bring Milo back?!?”

Milo is Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart senior editor who Twitter in July banned for life for directing his vast army of 300,000 Twitter followers to bombard “Saturday Night Live’s” Leslie Jones with racist tweets for her starring role in the “Ghostbusters” movie remake.

Miller’s middle-of-the night Twitter query was directed at four other cult figures, like Yiannopoulos with large social media followings at the alt-right edge of the Donald Trump political orbit.

There is Ricky Vaughn, who commonly uses the vulgarism for Clinton, and it appears might have been the source for Miller’s offensive tweet, which was quickly taken down.

There is RooshV, a renowned “pick-up artist” who on Oct. 17 wrote that women should confine themselves to reproductive sex, child rearing and homemaking, and who has warned that if Clinton is elected, a heterosexual male will never again serve as president.

There is Mike Cernovich, the man The New Yorker in its Oct. 31 issue profiles as the “meme mastermind of the alt-right,” who, on his “Danger and Play” blog, developed a theory of white male identity that posits that “men were oppressed by feminism, and political correctness prevented the discussion of obvious truths, such as the criminal proclivities of certain ethnic groups.”

And there is Jack Posobiec, special projects director of Citizens4Trump, who maintains that the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump talking about his predatory behavior with women was part of an attempted coup against Trump by House Speaker Paul Ryan and his GOP allies.

TM Daily Post riffs off of this and provides a few links to help illustrate who this particular basket of deplorables are. The point here is that the tweet that brought on this latest firestorm wasn’t just some accident of the kind that could happen to anyone. It’s that Miller and whoever else runs his social media accounts regularly swims in this cesspool of racist misogynistic douchebags. They’re buddies who laugh at the same jokes and share the same worldview. Put politics aside for a second and imagine that you’ve found yourself at a happy hour with these characters. Would you order a beer and hang out with them, or would you get the hell out of there and be glad to be rid of them?

Back to the Trib story, the theme of professional Republican women who have suddenly realized that they have been at this particular happy hour from hell all along but only began to notice it when the men they have worked for and supported have failed to say or do anything to derail these jerks is one that has started to appear. It’s not just Miller and Trump, either – the story notes recent comments by US Reps. Blake Farenthold and Brian Babin, among others, as part of the problem as well. Part of me feels sympathy for these women because how can one not feel sympathy, and part of me wonders what took them so long to figure out what was plainly obvious to the rest of us. Mostly I wonder what if anything they will do about it now that they have had this realization. The Trib story mentions some write-in votes for Evan McMullin, a lessened likelihood among Republican women to run for office (already a problem for the GOP), and some vague talk about reforming the party from within or splintering off into something else. The real question comes at the end:

[Randan Steinhauser, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee,] suggested that with Miller, at least, women would have the final word.

“We are political consultants by trade,” she said. “We’re conservatives, and as a strong conservative woman, I open the door to a strong conservative woman challenging Sid Miller.”

I’ll believe that when I see it. I might even take it seriously if it happens. As I’ve said many times about other matters of political controversy, nothing changes until someone loses an election over it. The filing deadline for 2018 is in a little more than a year. Put your money where your mouth is, and then we can talk. The Press has more.

Black Lives Matter takes an interest in the Harris County DA race

This will be worth watching.

Inspired by voters in Chicago and Cleveland who booted top prosecutors last week with candidates who pledged more accountability in police shootings, Houston-area Black Lives Matter activists have started a #ByeDevon social media campaign to try to oust Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson.

#ByeDevon, which appears to have debuted on Twitter last week, was shared and retweeted by individuals involved in local Black Lives Matter efforts as well as people who questioned the handling of the Sandra Bland incident and Houston-area members of the National Black United Front.

Anderson has drawn criticism for her handling of police shooting cases and for the lack of indictments against police officers who injure civilians. And activists have demanded an apology from Anderson for comments she made the morning after Harris County Deputy Darren Goforth was killed last year.

Anderson won the Republican primary earlier this month and is facing a rematch with Democratic challenger Kim Ogg in November.

[…]

Ogg said she welcomed the support.

“I’m glad they’re doing it,” she said. “I want them to be involved and we’ve seen that the public – at least in Chicago and Cleveland – recognized that it’s the district attorney’s responsibility to ensure that corrupt police or overly aggressive police or lying police are brought to justice and are held accountable to the public. I think it’s positive that young people are trying to raise their own community’s awareness and I think this is bigger than the African American community. I think the #ByeDevon hashtag could be the beginning of a movement for reform in the criminal justice system.”

[…]

[Black Lives Matter activist Jerry] Ford contends that Ogg would be better able to “close the communication gap between communities of color and law enforcement” and could “mobilize young people and people of color on the Democratic side to come out to vote.”

“We are going to mimic the strategy that took place up in Chicago,” Ford said, noting that #ByeDevon is patterned after the #ByeAnita social media effort to unseat Cook County prosecutor Anita Alvarez in Chicago. “I’m reaching out to activists around the country about the best way to move forward with this so we can be a success in November.”

Here’s the view on Twitter. Looks like the first use of the hashtag for this purpose was March 16. A subsequent post notes that ByeDevon.com has been acquired, so look for that at some point. This is modeled on the #ByeAnita hashtag used by Chicago activists in ousting the State’s Attorney who had not acted in the Laquan Edwards shooting.

That was a primary, and this is a general election, but the idea is the same – to engage and turn out people who care about the issues involved. This is a Presidential year so the turnout issue is different than it would be otherwise, but there is unquestionably room for growth. We’ve been a 50-50 county in the last two cycles; a few thousand votes here or there could make a huge difference. And the audience for this activism is primarily younger voters, always a good thing for Dems. I’ll be keeping an eye on this. Thanks to Houston Legal for the link.

UPDATE: More from Texas Monthly.

Twelve years

Twelve years ago today, I started this blog. That was on blogspot – believe it or not, it still exists; truly, the Internet is forever – and a few months later I had my own domain. I don’t do retrospectives, I don’t have a list of favorite or “most popular” posts readily available, and sometimes I don’t even remember to mark my blogging anniversaries, but I figured I ought to mention it this time, as I enter my baker’s dozenth year at it.

I tend to be a creature of habit, and when I find something I like that works for me, I just keep doing it. That’s the basic answer to the question of why I do this and how long I plan to keep doing it. It’s fun, I get something out of it, I’d miss it if I weren’t doing it, so I have no plans to stop. The day when those things are no longer true will come, but it’s not on my radar just yet.

One of the things I have enjoyed getting from this blog is a long list of friendships and acquaintances from across the political spectrum and in media, traditional and otherwise. I’ve gotten to meet a whole lot more people in real life because of this Internet thing than I could have without it. I’ve gotten to be on TV – I’ll be doing another episode of Red, White, and Blue to be aired on January 17 – and on radio – I’m doing another segment of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” for Houston Matters for this Friday, the 3rd – and discovered that I enjoy doing those things as well. More recently, I discovered that I have achieved the pinnacle of Internet fame when I stumbled across a Wikipedia page for this blog. I swear on whatever you have handy that I had nothing to do with that, and that I have no idea who created it.

Most of all, I enjoy the feedback I get from you, my readers. It still amazes me that there are people who read this blog. Thank you for doing so, thank you for commenting, and especially thank you for letting me know when I’ve got something wrong, and when I’ve got something right. I’d probably still write this thing if all my words were going into a big void, but it’s a lot more fun this way. As a reminder, there are multiple ways you can be notified about new posts on this blog. There’s good old fashioned RSS, there’s the Off the Kuff Twitter feed, and there’s the Off the Kuff Facebook page, which has 422 followers and which I’d dearly love to get to 500, if you’re so inclined. But however you access this blog, thank you for doing so, and thank you for coming back. Here’s to another fun year.

Stay classy, Greg Abbott

From over the weekend.

A Twitter poster who called Wendy Davis an “idiot” and “retard Barbie,” and said Greg Abbott would demolish her in the governor’s election, got a thank-you from Abbott’s campaign also via Twitter.

The exchange prompted a flurry of people on Twitter to suggest that Abbott should have refuted the offensive language instead of giving a shout out to the poster.

The poster, @jefflegal, frequently comments on political events and ridicules liberals. He had little patience for those who criticized his name-calling. He said he was using irony and “loved hearing complaints from liberals.”

Here’s the exchange:

The story has already gone national. Abbott, who according to TrailBlazers writes all his own tweets, later attempted to back away a bit:

Nor, apparently, will he condemn such language – and remember, even Sarah Palin considers the word “retarded” to be offensive. Look, Greg Abbott isn’t responsible for what a troglodyte like that has to say, but once he engages with him like that, it’s fair game. Abbott could have easily ignored him – it’s not like being tweeted at demands a response – but if he does choose to respond, the nature of his response, and what wasn’t said, is open to scrutiny. I will simply note that one of the keys to a Wendy Davis victory next year is a nice, big gender gap. It’s fine by me if Abbott and his Barbie-obsessed Twitter supporters keep on doing their best to make that happen.

One more thing, from this Trib story about the perils of candidates/officeholders doing unsupervised tweeting:

An Abbott source who spoke on condition of anonymity said the attorney general did not read the full message (and in particular, the offensive language) before expressing his gratitude.

What, was the tweet too long for him to make it all the way to the end? Maybe Twitter needs to reconsider that 140 character limit. Texas Politics, BOR, and dKos have more.

UPDATE: Despite giving Abbott more credit than he deserves, the DMN editorial board nails it.

July finance reports for Controller candidates

Continuing my look at July 2013 campaign finance reports for city candidates, here’s a look at the reports for the two Contoller hopefuls, incumbent Ronald Green and challenger Bill Frazer.

Candidate Raised Spent On Hand Loan ------------------------------------------------- Green 71,548 31,185 61,905 0 Frazer 52,648 45,956 31,826 15,000

Green report
Frazer report

Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

As Greg notes, that’s a pretty respectable haul by challenger Frazer. It comes with two qualifiers, however. First, about $9,600 of the total raised was in kind, all of which was listed as catering/food/beverage for a fundraising event. Second, anyone supporting Frazer should be concerned about his burn rate. More than half of the money he spent was for consulting services – $24,500 by my count, $4K of which came from personal funds. Consultants are necessary for a citywide campaign, and good consultants are certainly worth what they’re paid, but that’s an awfully big share of the pie to go to what is basically overhead. That’s a lot of money that’s not being spent on signs or ads or other forms of outreach.

City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ronald Green

By comparison, Green spent about $8,500 on consultants, most of which was monthly retainers to his longtime campaign operatives. One could argue that Green isn’t spending enough on consulting services, or that he isn’t getting enough value for what he is spending, but I don’t know how to quantify that, and even if I could the bottom line remains that at this rate Green will have a lot more cash available to do actual voter contact. I know whose position I’d rather be in. Having said that, Green took in less than he did in the same period in 2011, when he raised almost $95K. Not sure what happened this time around.

Beyond that, there was nothing terribly remarkable about either report. Frazer spent some money reaching out to Republicans, who will undoubtedly be a big part of his coalition – $1,250 to the Harris County GOP to sponsor a table at the 2013 Lincoln/Reagan Day event, and $1,500 to the Spring Branch Republicans to sponsor a table at the San Jacinto Day Dinner; both were made from personal funds – but I didn’t see any contributions to him from the usual Republican heavy hitters. Green, who did get $5K from the late Bob Perry, got the usual contributions from the usual PACs and law firms, as do most incumbents. He also spent $31.78 on Twitter advertising. I’ve seen many expenses for Facebook ads over the past few years, but these were the first I can recall for Twitter ads. Yet another new frontier has been entered.

Social media update

This is just a friendly reminder that you can find much of this blog’s content on the official Off the Kuff Facebook page, which I hope you will like. I was asked recently what the purpose of that page was, and the answer is that I wanted to provide another way for people to get the content that I provide here. Some people (like me) like RSS feeds, some people like Twitter (the Twitter feed for this blog is @offthekuff, as noted on the sidebar), and some people like Facebook. It’s good to have options, right? For those of you who like the Off the Kuff Facebook page, I generally try to add a little something extra most days – I’ll share a link to some other blog post or story that I want to share but don’t necessarily want to devote a full post to, or I’ll write an add-on to a post like this story about my inept effort to do the first candidate interview of the 2012 cycle. I may also ask for feedback about specific things I’m doing or thinking about doing here, such as my recent decision to include more pictures on the blog. It’s an ongoing experiment, which adds some fun and some challenge for me, always nice to have after doing the same thing for a decade. Feedback is always appreciated, here or on the Facebook page, so please let me know what you think. Thanks very much.

Day One at the SBOE

Here’s your TFN Insider coverage of today’s SBOE science hearings. In Part I of the hearings, we find that the SBOE may not be such a major factor in school curriculum any more:

10:20  – Board members are quizzing the commissioner about how the new rules governing the purchase of instructional materials — changes codified in Senate Bill 6, passed during the legislative session and signed by the governor earlier this week — will play out in school districts. Commissioner Scott rightly notes that the law represents a sea-change in the way the schools purchase materials.Note: TFN is putting the finishing touches on a comprehensive analysis of this new law and its likely effects on the state board’s role in vetting and approving classroom materials. We plan to publish that analysis in the coming weeks. TFN communications director Dan Quinn previewed our conclusions in a story in today’s USA Today: “It has the great potential to diminish the influence of the State Board of Education.”

And we find that maybe, just maybe, the winds have shifted a bit:

11:20 – Interesting news out of the SBOE Committee on Instruction meeting earlier this morning. That five-member committee has long been dominated by far-right members, but there are signs that a change is coming. The committee’s first order of business today was to elect a new chair, after Barbara Cargill announced she was stepping down. In a move that seemed to surprise Cargill, George Clayton, R-Dallas, nominated new board member Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, as chair. Clayton and Farney, though conservative, have been ostracized by Cargill and the far-right faction. Cargill immediately nominated fellow far-right conservative Terri Leo, R-Spring, and the vote was deadlocked at two votes for each candidate. Democratic board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, is absent from today’s meetings, so the committee moved to postpone the election of chair until the September meeting when Berlanga will be present. Since there is no love lost between Berlanga and the far-right bloc, it seems likely that she will vote for Farney at the September meeting. Could this be a coup, signaling a return to common sense on this critical committee?

We can only hope. In Part II we find that all those annoying pro-science testifiers are making Ken Mercer and David Bradley cry, and in Part I of the debate, we find there’s nothing to be alarmed about just yet. Which counts as good news with the SBOE. Here’s Steven Schafersman‘s coverage; Josh Rosenau has weighed in on Twitter but not yet on his blog. All the Twitter action is on the #SBOE hashtag if you’re into that sort of thing.

Finally, an object lesson in not being able to do more with less:

With one-third fewer people, the Texas Education Agency just can’t do everything it used to do.

State Board of Education members were were told on multiple occasions this morning that a lack of time and staffers had prevented the agency from doing some of the prep work that it would have done previously, such as creating a briefing book on new legislation.

Citing similar constraints, agency staffers said they had yet to produce rules for the implementation of Senate Bill 6, which fundamentally changes how school districts can use state dollars to buy instructional materials and technology. It was passed during the special session last month.

School districts, for example, are waiting to learn how much they will get under the new system to cover the cost of textbooks, hardware, software and other expenses associated with disseminating lessons to students.

Sometimes, when you fire a bunch of people, stuff just doesn’t get done. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

UPDATE: So far, so good. On to tomorrow.

UPDATE: The Trib has more.

Saturday video break: We Three Kings are totally on Twitter

If the Christmas story were happening today, this is how it might go down:

Thanks to Harold for finding this.

The social network campaign

Governor Perry won’t show up at a debate, but he is a presence on the Internet.

The list of things that Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Bill White, his Democratic opponent in November, disagree upon is long. But on the subject of social media as a tool to reach voters, the candidates are in harmony. Although the campaigns differ in their online tactics, both say they began to buy into social media in a big way early in 2009 and they’re each giving it unprecedented time and resources.

Perry and White both use smart phones to keep followers updated via Twitter and Facebook (White has an iPhone, Perry a BlackBerry). Their staffs tote equipment to send videos, photos, status updates, e-mails and blog posts from the road. Sometimes, the messages aren’t entirely earth-shattering. On Twitter, Perry posted a photo with teen stars Joe Jonas and Demi Lovato. And a recent Facebook post from White reads: “Andre Johnson does it again for the Texans. Can the Texans go 2-0?”

But the campaigns believe that their efforts — everything from off-the-cuff updates to more substantial efforts such as reactions to news stories, responses to voter questions and online videos — are giving Texans greater access to the candidates and delivering their messages to where the eyeballs are.

“They’re both very proficient,” said Mike Chapman, a partner in Apogee Campaigns, a nonpartisan consulting firm that’s closely following the campaigns. “Texas is getting a good representation on both sides of the aisle in terms of all the latest tools.”

[…]

The @GovernorPerry account has about 29,797 followers compared with about 4,621 followers for White’s @billwhitefortx.

While Perry tweets enthusiastically, White has taken a liking to Facebook, where his official page had been “Liked” 137,871 times compared with 43,227 times for the official Rick Perry Facebook page as of Sunday evening.

All of this is very interesting, and I’ve no doubt that both campaigns use social media proficiently. But there’s this little nagging voice in the back of my head that wonders just how much effect any of it really has. There were about 4.4 million votes cast in Texas in 2006, and it’s safe to assume there will be at least that many cast this year. Adding up all of the Twitter and Facebook friends and followers and you get less than 5% of that total, and that’s before you weed out duplicates, journalists and others with professional interests in the campaigns, out of staters, and phonies. The real story to me is not the numbers themselves but the metrics the campaigns themselves use to try to measure what the numbers mean. We all know that the 2008 Presidential election showed the immense potential of social networking in this context, but let’s be honest here, the 2008 Presidential election was sui generis. What do campaigns in 2010 and beyond aim to get out of their Twitter and Facebook and whatever the next hot new app is devotees, and how do they intend to determine if they’re getting it or not? That’s the story I want to read.

UPDATE: See also this Trib story.

School social media policies

The DMN has an interesting look at how Dallas-area school districts handle social networking by its employees.

[S]chool districts and teachers trying to reach and engage students and parents find that using the latest and most popular technology is faster, cost-effective and meets students and parents in their communication comfort zones.

Some teachers have established their own blogs and Facebook pages for their classes.

“It’s a wonderful way to reach out and get immediate feedback,” said Bob Morrison, superintendent in Mansfield ISD. “If you have your students subscribing to a classroom Facebook page and they’re having a debate about a topic, the teacher can see that and use it in her class.”

Large districts, such as Dallas ISD and Fort Worth ISD, have established districtwide Facebook pages. Some have created Twitter accounts, blogs and YouTube videos to spread district news. Mansfield ISD is working to create a smartphone application that would allow parents to check their children’s athletic schedules or add money to their lunch accounts.

“Technology is here. You can either embrace it or run away from it. We chose to embrace it,” Morrison said.

[…]

The Mansfield ISD employee handbook warns teachers that electronic communication should be limited to “matters within the scope of the employee’s professional responsibilities.” For classroom teachers, that means “matters relating to class work, homework, and tests” and for employees directing extracurricular activities, a similar stick-to-the-subject directive.

The policy also prohibits employees from “knowingly communicating with students through a personal social network page.” Employees may have their own social media pages for personal use, but they are to communicate with students through separate professional social network pages only and must allow administrators and parents access.

That’s a sensible attitude, and a sensible approach. Obviously, it’s more relevant today in districts where home computer use is more prevalent, but again we know that Texas schools will be using technology a lot more in the near future, so it’s best to get your arms around this now.

The article notes that the Texas Education Agency prefers to let individual ISDs set their own policies on this rather than impose a standard from above. So I wondered: What are HISD’s policies regarding social media for its schools and employees? I didn’t find anything on the HISD website, so I sent an email inquiry to them. Here’s the response I got:

Access to social media and networking sites (like YouTube and Facebook) are blocked from district computers at all schools and offices. We do not have a district Facebook or YouTube page. But, HISD does have a twitter account and following. The messages are posted by our communications department or by the superintendent himself. We do not have a policy addressing social media sites someone may access and post on during their off duty hours. We do address the issue to some extent in the Code of Student Conduct through our policies regarding cyber-bullying. There is also a state law that makes it a crime to access a computer from someone else’s account and post matters under their name with the intent to make others believe that the account holder is posting it. Additionally, the district can take action for matters posted by an employee, if it has a direct and substantial impact on their performance of their duties, or if it appears that there is a relationship that goes beyond the professional relationship between teacher and student. Employees are not restricted regarding their ability to have an account on a social networking site, however, as the article demonstrates, there are a lot of pitfalls should matters posted on the site extend beyond professional matters and stray into personal matters.

I actually found several HISD-related Twitter feeds, including HISD Media, HISD Recruiter, HISD Special Ed, and the main HISD feed itself. Superintendent Terry Grier is on Twitter, as are at least four trustees: Greg Myers, Paula Harris, Harvin Moore, and Anna Eastman. I have to say, I rather like the Mansfield approach, and I hope HISD will give this some more thought.

The city of Houston’s social media guidelines

I received the following email from Justin Concepcion, who manages social media for Mayor Parker’s office, in response to the questions I asked in this post about how the city of Houston handles social media:

We are in the process of creating a social media policy for the City of Houston. However, currently, it is still in the draft phase. I’ve been working very closely with our legal department and a COH social media committee to ensure the policy fits all the parameters needed to address this growing field.

As far as utilizing social media, the previous administration already encouraged city departments to utilize it as a communications tool, so many of the departments already have sites established. They are listed on their respective site and on here: http://www.houstontx.gov/socialmedia/index.html – The policy we’re creating is to address growing concerns on how departments should use it and personal use by city employees.

He also said they have just released the first phase of their new website, and that he will pass along my comments about having each departments’ social media links on their homepage, which most of them already do have. My thanks to Justin for getting back to me on this.

Social media guidelines in San Antonio

Interesting.

There’s no standard policy or set of procedures governing how public entities or their employees should use social networking sites. Agencies are in various stages of evaluating what constitutes proper online conduct.

Bexar County is writing a social media policy that would address personal networking. There’s nothing about it in the county’s computer resources use policy, last amended in June. The city of San Antonio put out an administrative directive in January that explains how employees should represent their departments and themselves online, spokeswoman Di Galvan said.

“The city of San Antonio was one of the first to have a social media policy that’s been implemented in the state,” Galvan said. “We tried to find other policies and really couldn’t find any that addressed a municipality. Employees want guidelines, and that’s what we provided to them.”

[…]

The city hasn’t defined exactly what would be considered inappropriate. The directive puts it this way: “Ensure your profile and related content is consistent with how you wish to present yourself as a City professional, appropriate with the public trust associated with your position, and conforms to existing ethical standards.”

The city has comparatively strong rules for how its departments must manage their social media networks — and it has 58 such networks. The Police Department doesn’t have one yet, but the Fire Department does.

Just curious – does the city of Houston, or Harris County, have any such guidelines for their employees, or for how its departments must manage their social media networks? I think both are a good idea. One simple thing that ought to be a part of the latter is to ensure that various departments’ social networking sites are prominently linked from their departments’ home pages. A quick tour of the City of Houston and Harris County department pages shows a few that are and many that aren’t. You can find the Houston Public Library on Facebook, and you can find the Harris County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook, but you can’t find either of them linked from their respective department homepages. I must note that this is no different from San Antonio, where you can find the San Antonio Convention Center on Facebook, but you wouldn’t know that from its official homepage. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

Join Senator Kirk Watson & Bill White in Online Video Town Hall, Monday July 12

State Senator Kirk Watson will host an online video town hall with Bill White on Monday, July 12th at 5:30pm. You can join the conversation yourself, submit questions, and enjoy a high-tech, low-key campaign chat with two of Texas’ most prominent Democrats. They’ll be taking questions in real time during the town hall via Twitter, Facebook and UStream. Or, you can submit your question now on Kirk’s Facebook wall (http://bit.ly/dmrnVa) or his Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/KirkPWatson. The event is free and open to everyone – you just need to log on to Facebook and go to Kirk’s Facebook page from 5:30 to 6:30PM on July 12 to watch or participate. BOR has more.

New frontiers in open meeting laws

There’s an awful lot here to think about.

The Texas Legislature may become the first in the nation to tackle whether tweeting and texting is being used to circumvent open meetings laws and whether the private devices of public officials can be subject to open records searches.

“They are new tools to communicate with constituents … and in some ways they are a better way to engage the public in the public policy process,” said Keith Elkins, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

But he told the Senate State Affairs Committee on Tuesday that the tools of the Internet and smart phones can lead to quorum and open meetings violations.

“Everybody here today has been texting and answering e-mails,” Elkins said. “It is not beyond the realm of possibility that a quorum of any body has texted each other to say ‘Yes, I’m voting and why.’ ”

[…]

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, said he would be concerned that people may think he was violating the law by texting during a meeting when, in fact, he may be dealing with a family emergency, a message from a constituent or even taking a moment to read the Gospel of the Day.

“Texting has become an excellent way to get staff to assist you during committee meetings,” Lucio said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, said he is concerned about subjecting private computers and private cell phones to public information requests. He said he also is worried that public officials may end up having to carry three cell phones to cover public use, campaign use and private use.

“Everybody ought to have some expectation of privacy, even if they are a public official,” Duncan said.

No question there’s a can of worms here, but I am sympathetic to what the Senators have to say. Among other things, many public officials are parents, and I’d bet they get lots of text messages from or about their kids, just like millions of other parents do. Basically, this is in some sense no different than email, and we had this conversation about email some years ago. Everyone more or less understands the rules with email – what you can and can’t send from your official account, for example – and it shouldn’t to too hard to translate those rules for other forms of communication. Just codifying what’s allowed and what’s not will do a lot to discourage official business from taking place out of sight.

That doesn’t mean that there won’t be loopholes to exploit. That happens now with email. We’ve seen Governor Perry and various members of the Bush administration use personal email accounts for a lot of stuff that may have been official or campaign communications because they can avoid this kind of scrutiny by doing so. There isn’t always a sufficiently clear distinction between different kinds of communications, so any number of things can fall between the cracks by accident or design. With new technologies constantly emerging, those who want to operate in secret will always have an advantage, as the law will never be able to keep up. Confusion is an issue, too, as illustrated by this paragraph:

Not long after a Florida state commission recommended all agencies adopt policies on electronic messaging last year, the state’s utility regulation agency was caught in a scandal when staff gave out private Blackberry messaging accounts to utility lobbyists, who treated them to a Kentucky Derby trip. Though no texts were preserved, it gave the appearance of trying to circumvent the state’s open meetings law.

I’m not what they mean by “BlackBerry messaging accounts”, but as far as I know, one normally sends text messages to a phone number. You can use BlackBerrys for instant messaging as well, however, and I suspect this may have been referring to IM accounts, which can be on various services like AIM or Yahoo or Microsoft OCS if you are on a BlackBerry Enterprise Server that is configured to work with it. Personal IM usage would not be recorded on a BES, if that’s what these guys were doing. Getting a real handle on this will be a challenge, but using existing guidelines for email usage will be our best bet for where to start.

One last thing: The opening sentence of this story referred to “tweeting and texting”, but that was the only mention of anything related to Twitter. Say what you want about Twitter, it’s not normally used for clandestine communication. Yes, you can protect your tweets, and yes you can send text-like direct messages, but for the most part Twitter is the opposite of what needs to be dealt with here.

Like I said, it’s a complex issue. Vince makes a compelling case that what’s at issue is open records, not open meetings. I encourage you to read what he has to say on the subject.

McGuff interviews the Mayor

Mayor Annise Parker discusses her social media strategy with Mike McGuff:

Interesting stuff. Among other things, the Mayor mentions that a new and improved City of Houston website is on its way. I can’t wait to see it.

No texting while deliberating

If you get called in for jury duty in Harris County, you can now get free WiFi in the Jury Assembly Room. But once you get into a courtroom, and especially if you get empaneled, you should expect to have to unplug.

If you think you’re going to use your spanking new iPhone to entertain yourself next time you’re on jury duty, think again.  Judges are going to take an even dimmer view of jury member use of Blackberry, iPhone or other electronic devices as a judicial policy-setting group has told district judges they should restrict jurors from using electronic technologies to research or communicate.

The Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management for the United States District Courts said it developed instructions that would be issued by judges, “to address the increasing incidence of juror use of such devices as cellular telephones or computers to conduct research on the Internet or communicate with others about cases. Such use has resulted in mistrials, exclusion of jurors, and imposition of fines. The suggested instructions specifically inform jurors that they are prohibited from using these technologies in the courtroom, in deliberations, or outside the courthouse to communicate about or research cases on which they currently serve, the group stated.

Specifically, those instruction spell out that jurors should not you should not consult dictionaries or reference materials, search the internet, websites, blogs, or use any other electronic tools to obtain information either before the trial, during deliberations or after until the judge instructs otherwise.

The instructions state jurors must not use cell phones, e-mail, Blackberry, iPhone, text messaging, or on Twitter, or communicate through any blog or website, through any internet chat room, or by way of any other social networking websites, including Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

In the old days, judges instructed jurors not to read the newspaper or watch the news, or discuss the case with anyone. This isn’t really different from that, it’s just a revision for modern forms of news and discussion. Better to spell it all out than to risk a mistrial somewhere because a juror didn’t realize that not discussing the case meant not posting a Facebook status update about it, too.

Endorsement watch: Republicans (very quietly) for Roy

The Saturday edition of the Chron the past couple of weeks has had a feature in the City & State section called Campaign Watch, which is a blog-like collection of short items relating to the 2009 elections. For some odd reason, none of this stuff is apparently available on the Chron.com website. Anyway, one of the stories today is headlined “County Republican Party Makes Pick”, and says that even though they basically did nothing else for him in terms of financial help or voter outreach, the Harris County Republican Party officially announced its endorsement of Roy Morales for Mayor on Friday, after only a week of early voting.

Which is nice for Roy, I suppose – it’s not like he’s exactly overwhelmed with support – but you’d think the least they could do is mention it somewhere prominent. It’s not, for example, on the front page of the HCRP website, where you’d think at least a link to such a big announcement might be. It is there – if you go to HCRP 2009 Elections page and click the link on Roy’s name, you’ll see it. I nearly missed it the first time I went looking, but it is there. They haven’t used social media to spread the word, either – it’s not on their Facebook page, it’s not on the Harris County GOP Facebook group page, and it’s not on the HCRP Twitter feed. Oh, and if you take a close look at that last link, you’ll note that the whole “doing it in the Facebook with the Twittering” thing still needs a little work.

Now you may say, they just announced this yesterday, give them a little time to get their stuff together. Well, except that the story says that the actual endorsement was made at their Executive Committee meeting on Monday the 19th. Roy himself announced the endorsement on his webpage on Tuesday the 20th. The HCRP didn’t bother to announce it till Friday, and this is all they’ve done with it in the meantime. Boy, with friends like these, huh?