Proposed bill to ban social media during public hearings… Really?

By: Victoria Holliday

We know it is illegal (and dangerous) to text while driving – what about tweeting while lawmaking? While tweeting, texting, Facebook, and e-mail are a constant presence in the daily lives of many individuals, several states and cities have recently enacted bans to prohibit social media usage by public officials during meetings

In Texas, a proposed bill would make it illegal for legislators to send or receive a text, e-mail, instant message, or make posts to websites during public meetings. If enacted, Texas would be the first state with a law of this kind. A similar ban already exists in the California Assembly – California lawmakers are prohibited from text messaging lobbyists or lawmakers on the Assembly’s floor or in its committees.

Social Media Bans Seek to Enforce Open Record Laws

Such bans are not concerned with whether officials are paying attention, but rather whether such communication violates open record and meeting laws, which provide the public access to government communications. Reset SF isn’t going to discuss the other issue of manners (or lack thereof) of using social media in meetings – mostly because many of us are guilty of tweeting during meetings. 

The legality of using social media while lawmaking is understandably reason for debate. Supporters of the ban say that if public officials are emailing or texting with each other during meetings, they are likely discussing issues at hand. Electronic communication potentially violates open meeting rules, should they remain private and off public record. Critics of the ban argue that electronic communication is useful, especially during public meetings, as social media allows officials to keep constituents updated during meetings.

Open record laws need to catch up to the digital age of Gov 2.0

Gov 2.0 is becoming a reality. While texting, tweets, email and blog posts may make for easier and more rapid communications, open record laws still needs to catch up to determine how to balance e-communications with government transparency. The ability for government officials to share information is important – but should the public be excluded from the conversation?

Perhaps the best solution is one that addresses the concerns of both sides. Public officials should be permitted (even encouraged) to use social media and other new technology during meetings, but only if the communication is truly open.

And this is why we believe in allowing YouTube testimony in San Francisco City Hall meetings. Meetings can benefit from the use of Youtube testimony, and real time news feed. Technology like Youtube and Twitter provide easier access to civic participation, and allow individuals to be heard by city government, and follow their city government.

What do you think? Should social media be banned in public meetings?


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Phil Ting's picture

open government

During any public meeting, all the participants should be dialoguing with each other.  If we are texting, posting on facebook and chatting on twitter, then we arent listening to each other.  Sharing information instantaneously is a good goal so we can get information to the public immediately, but if we are holding a meeting, we should be listening to each other first and foremost.
That's why we should be encouraging more participants to be involved in government and allowing You Tube testimony to make it happen.

Paid for by Phil Ting for Assembly 2012. FPPC ID# 1343137