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Pam Bondi’s office can’t resolve Twitter public record question

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A list of everyone who has blocked, or been blocked by, an elected official on Twitter might be a public record, according to Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office.

Then again, maybe not.

“The question presented … involves mixed questions of law and fact that this office cannot resolve,” said an informal Attorney General’s advisory opinion issued last week.

The opinion was requested by Gainesville City Attorney Nicolle Shalley.

She wanted to know “whether a list or record of accounts which have been blocked from posting to or accessing an elected official’s personal Twitter feed is a public record,” according to the opinion.

The reason why wasn’t clear Monday. A spokesman for the city, which is in one of the areas affected by Tropical Storm Colin, could not be reached.

Blocking another Twitter user means that person “will not be able to follow you,” according to the Twitter Help Center. “Accounts you have blocked cannot follow you, and you cannot follow an account you have blocked.”

Moreover, “tweets from blocked accounts will not appear in your timeline. However, note that tweets from others that mention blocked accounts may appear in your timeline (for example, if you follow that account) or your notification timeline (if a Tweet mentions you).”

Senior Assistant Attorney General Gerry Hammond told Shalley “a determination of whether the list of blocked accounts is a public record requires resolution … of whether the tweets (that) resulted in the blocked accounts were public records.”

“If the tweets the public official is sending are public records, then a list of blocked accounts, prepared in connection with those public records tweets, could well be determined by a court to be a public record,” he wrote.

Barbara Petersen, president of The First Amendment Foundation, a Tallahassee-based open government watchdog group, called the directive “sort of a non-opinion.”

But she did “agree with the statement that if the tweets were public record, then records of those who were blocked are subject to disclosure,” she added.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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