The Hoboken City Council will vote on the first reading of an ordinance that would fine elected officials up to $500 for each person they block on their social media feeds, putting in question what role the governing body should play in relation to the 1st Amendment.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
The measure, sponsored by 3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo, 5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen, and Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour, cites a 2020 decision from the 8th Circuit U.S. District Court of Appeals that says public officials cannot block individuals where their social media profile “is an organ of business.”
Cohen said that the ordinance was introduced in response to 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco blocking people on Twitter who questioned his travels while renting his home on Airbnb.
“When we decided to step up and run for public office as City Council representatives, we signed up to hear both the good and the bad from our community. We should not block members of the public from being heard on our social media platforms,” added Jabbour.
Russo also expressed that elected leaders should allow “full access to our residents” and preventing them from interacting on social media “runs counter to everything we should believe in.”
In response, DeFusco, a potential mayoral candidate, said that his social media is not taxpayer funded and that he only blocked “a small handful of people” who engage in abusive behavior.
” … Unfortunately, some of my political opponents have decided to abuse the page and use it to post false, personal attacks about me in an attempt to bully me and my supporters, and in those cases, I have blocked a small handful of people who are being abusive.”
He continued that he has since unblocked everyone in the spirit of open communications, noting that he has a list of policies posted on his Facebook page and still reserves the right to delete comments that violate those terms.
A few commenters on social media posted today that they were previously blocked by DeFusco despite never participating in cyber bullying or hate speech.
2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, a frequent political ally of DeFusco, said she will vote against the ordinance if it comes to that point, characterizing it as another “political stunt” by allies of Mayor Ravi Bhalla.
“This is an incredible overreach of local government and a political stunt that has the real potential to weaponize local campaigns. We should leave it to the courts to decide first amendment rights, not a local municipal prosecutor.”
The Hoboken City Council convenes tomorrow at 7 p.m. via Microsoft Teams.