Broward Sheriff Blocks Filmmaker Billy Corben on Twitter; Is This a Public Records Violation?
Local documentarian Billy Corben has claimed on his Twitter and Facebook feeds that the Broward Sheriff's Office twitter account blocked him over a tweet regarding a story of one of their deputies being arrested for shoplifting.
The issue came up late Thursday night after Corben tweeted a story linked to CBS12.com about Deputy Theodore Parrish being charged for shoplifting food items from Walmart.
Moments after that tweet, Corben tweeted a screen grab of the BSO twitter feed blocking him from following them. Corben also took to Facebook and questioned BSO's transparency.
But there's also a greater question here: Is the BSO twitter feed violating public records laws by blocking people from seeing their tweets?
— Billy Corben (@BillyCorben) January 2, 2015
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Corben claims that the agency blocked him after he tweeted that story. But BSO tells New Times that Corben has actually been blocked for months. And that the reason had to do with profane comments directed at the BSO twitter feed from Corben's followers.
"Our blocking him had nothing to do with the retweeting of that BSO deputy story," BSO public information officer Dani Moschella said. "The reason has more to do with profane tweets or comments by his followers more than anything else."
Corben, who directed and produced several South Florida-centric documentaries, including Cocaine Cowboys and The U, is known for tweeting his criticism towards public agencies when he feels it's warranted.
But, he says, he's never been abusive in his tweets.
"All I can say is: look at my tweets," Corben tells New Times. "They're almost all aggregating news stories from other sources. And I try not to reply to negative, hateful and/or profane tweets. Unless I want to highlight their ignorance."
Joel Chandler, a Florida public records expert who runs FogWatch.org, a blog dedicated to public records and government transparency issues, says that BSO blocking anyone is a clear violation of Florida's public records act.
"If BSO has a Twitter account that decimates information and they willfully prevent someone from seeing that information, that's a clear violation," Chandler says. "And if it's a matter of them being upset over profanity directed at them, that's actually a First Amendment violation."
Chandler, who admits he's not an expert on Twitter, says that many sheriff departments around the state operate Facebook accounts. "If someone leaves a comment on their Facebook that they find offensive, and it's deleted, that's a violation."
Chandler says Corben -- or anyone else that's been blocked -- might have a case against BSO here.
"If a public agency is going to maintain a social media presence, then they have to understand what social media is," Chandler says. "It's a free exchange of ideas in a public forum. Sometimes people are going to say nasty things, or disagree with you."
"All my tweets are public and available for anyone to review," Corben says, pairing the clear difference between him and the BSO Twitter account. "Meanwhile, they're blocking my access to public records."
"In my opinion, this sounds like BSO is just being a baby," Chandler says.
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