Things That Matter

A Police Department In South Carolina Is In Hot Water After Sending Out A Tweet About AOC

Last Wednesday, the Summerville, South Carolina Police Department experienced a pretty serious glitch when someone tweeted “AOC is an idiot” from the department’s official Twitter account.

The tweet appeared in response to a series of posts from New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about parental leave in the United States.

Since the mishap came to light, the erroneous tweet has been deleted. Captain Rick Gebhardt of the Summerville Police Deparment told ABC News 4 that “a member of [the department’s] social media team inadvertently posted on [the department’s] official page instead of their own,” before adding that “[the employee’s] comments in no way represent those of the agency.”

To the credit—or detriment?—of the Department, their Twitter bio does clearly state that their account is “not monitored 24/7.” But, after this little mishap, maybe it should be?

Regardless, the Summerville incident is definitely not the first time (nor the worst time) that AOC has been criticized on social media.

Credit: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez / Instagram

In fact, just a few months ago, AOC was at the center of a legal maelstrom regarding her decision to block online users from posting to her personal account (@AOC). She made this decision after receiving extensive criticism from individuals and organizations alike, referring to some interactions as straight up harassment. But in August, Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute sent her a letter that claimed she was violating her critics’ Constitutional rights by revoking access to her handle, arguing that Twitter is a “public forum” and her status as a political figure makes hers an essential space for promoting discourse and sharing information.

“Many of your tweets staking out positions on issues such as immigration, the environment, and impeachment have made headline news,” the letter noted. “The @AOC account is important to you as a legislator, to your constituents, and to others who seek to understand and influence your legislative decisions and priorities.”

Of course, because the internet is the most meta medium ever, AOC took to Twitter to respond to Columbia University’s missive. 

It’s also not uncommon for lawmakers to block critics on social networks. In 2017, ProPublica—a nonprofit news organization that specializes in investigative reporting—asked all 50 governors and 22 federal agencies if they had ever blocked users on social media. Over half of those surveyed didn’t respond, but five Republican governors, four Democratic governors, and four agencies said that they had, indeed, blocked users in the past. And like AOC in the tweet above, they also provided information about who they had blocked and why.

In the midst of multiple lawsuits, AOC’s lawyers argued that because her @AOC handle is not her official government account, it should not be subject to the same rules that her government account must adhere to. But due to the fact that her @AOC account is used primarily for government purposes, that claim wasn’t exactly convincing to a judge. (The same issue emerged in July when a federal appeals panel ruled that Donald Trump had violated the Constitution when he blocked certain Twitter followers after they criticized him.)

After several First Amendment experts encouraged her to reassess her stance on blocking critics on social media, AOC made a pretty classy move and apologized to one of her main detractors, a former assemblyman named Dov Hikind.

“I have reconsidered my decision to block Dov Hikind from my Twitter account,” AOC said in a statement made the day before she was scheduled to testify in Brooklyn federal court. “Mr. Hikind has a First Amendment right to express his views and should not be blocked for them.”

“It was wrong and improper and does not reflect the values I cherish,” she added.

However, AOC remained adamant about not permitting users to harass or verbally abuse her (or others) through her social media pages. She affirmed that she would continue to block users from following her in the future if they behaved inappropriately, ultimately making it less of a forum for productive democratic discussion.

“I reserve the right to block users who engage in actual harassment or exploit my personal/campaign account, @AOC, for commercial or other improper purposes,” she said.

The letter from Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute also acknowledged the importance of this issue, drawing attention to the nuanced issue of what type of speech should not be allowed under the First Amendment—especially when directed at public figures online.

“We recognize that abuse and harassment are significant problems on social media, especially for women and minorities, and that this abuse and harassment can deter speech and political participation that are crucial to our democracy,” said the letter.

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