Magazine article Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal

The Blocked List

Magazine article Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal

The Blocked List

Article excerpt

Politicians love to use social media to talk directly with constituents (hello, POTUS). But when the conversation turns negative, how many elected officials choose to mute or block dissenters? Mere's how to find out.

We reached out to reporters at the Courier-Journal in Louisville, part of the USA TODAY network, to learn how they unearthed the number of users blocked by Kentucky officials. Reporter Morgan Watkins showed us how she and colleague Phillip Bailey constructed a public records request that revealed Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin was blocking nearly 600 people on Facebook and Twitter.

Context

Watkins and Bailey had seen people post on social media about being blocked by politicians, including Bevin. There was even a hashtag: #BevinBlocked. The reporters figured it was worth asking how many users Bevin had blacklisted. They sent records requests to Bevin and other state and local officials who used social media in an official capacity. Below is a copy of the records request they sent to the governor.

The Results

The records of blocked social accounts came in PDF form and included each user's profile picture, name and Twitter handle. Watkins' next step was to look up users one by one to see if the people behind the accounts were easy to contact. Then, Watkins cold-called or emailed folks and found a few who were willing to talk about why they might have been blocked.

After gathering anecdotes from blocked users, she reached out to sources including the American Civil Liberties Union and constitutional law experts to get context on the legality of public officials blocking users on social media. …

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