Last winter, Crit News was blocked by the Chicopee Police Department social media pages after we published articles critical of the department’s affiliation with anti-LGBTQ brand Chick-fil-A and its likely unconstitutional social media policy.
Prior court rulings strongly suggest that these blocks violate the First Amendment, so we filed a complaint with Mass Attorney General Maura Healey’s civil rights division. In the time since, we have become dismayed by the AG’s office’s failure to address the blocks. But now records we have received from Healey’s shed light on why her office may be avoiding the issue—her office is also guilty of the same kind of questionable social media management.
After the CPD blocked both the Crit News Twitter account and this reporter’s personal Facebook account from its official social media pages, we looked for ways to get the issue resolved. The ACLU of Massachusetts suggests filing a complaint to the AGO’s civil rights division, so we did. We thought our complaint would be the easiest case they ever saw, since the blocking was not disputed; rather, CPD’s problematic public information officer acknowledged that he had blocked our accounts as well as another 73 others. All that Healey’s office needed to do was write a letter telling the department to unblock everyone and change its practice.
Instead, it wrote to us, saying it wouldn’t lift a finger.
While we hoped the simple uncontested nature of the violation of our rights would mean that the AGO would take actions, we’ve grown accustomed to Healey failing on issues of transparency and accountability. When we received the letter from her office declining to protect the First Amendment, we suspected, rightly, that her office is equally guilty. We put in a records request and found that indeed, multiple accounts are blocked from the AGO’s social media pages.
Healey is a major factor in the lack of functional transparency in Massachusetts. Her abuse of the First Amendment and refusal to protect the rights to information are why agencies like the CPD argue that they can block people, effectively silencing criticism in order to enforce their arbitrary rules.
Healey’s office’s behavior is the ultimate shield for every official who runs a government social media account.
This article was produced in collaboration with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism with CriticalMA. To see more reporting like this, please donate at givetobinj.org.
Maya is the editor of Critical Mass, which produces investigative reports primarily on issues of transparency and accountability in government in Massachusetts.