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Surprise Delete of ‘SpeakerCoJo’ Twitter Triggers Look at City Archive Policy

Government transparency advocates argue politicians’ social media and campaign sites need to be treated as official documents with public access to archives.

SHARE Surprise Delete of ‘SpeakerCoJo’ Twitter Triggers Look at City Archive Policy

Then-Council Speaker Corey Johnson answers media questions at City Hall, June 30, 2021.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

When former City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s official Twitter account abruptly vanished in January, social media observers and good-government watchdogs were left wondering if he had scrubbed four years of pithy political posts to make way for a career as a lobbyist.

Turns out Johnson’s work account, @NYCSpeakerCoJo, was deactivated in mid-January by his replacement, Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (D-Queens).

The account was removed “for the avoidance of confusion,” according to a spokesperson for Adams. 

“The former Speaker’s government Twitter account was archived and deactivated, since his term had expired and he was no longer Speaker — plainly speaking, the content remains available for public access but the dormant account is just no longer active,” the spokesperson, Mandela Jones, said.

“The City Council follows City and State record retention requirements, and these remain accessible to the public in accordance with the law.” 

Johnson, who now runs a government-relations lobbying firm, declined to comment, but said he had not been aware the account had been deleted until THE CITY reached out. 

The move was not liked by government transparency groups and other local politicians, who are now trying to codify the inclusion officials’ websites and social media presence in their public archives.

A full archive of the account was released to THE CITY weeks after filing a Freedom of Information request, but it is not currently easily accessible online. 

The account was maintained by the speaker’s office press team, and included professional statements on issues throughout his four years in the role. It was Johnson’s official government account, and separate from his personal Twitter account, which is still active. 

Those statements could be revealing now that he’s working as a lobbyist, though. For example, As speaker, Johnson spoke out against  a plan to build large towers around Penn Station. Now, he’s working for the developer, Vornado.

Jones said they “are considering ways to go beyond what the law requires to make this content available even absent a request.” 

The city’s Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS) maintains an archive of social media content from citywide agencies and many officials, including the mayor and comptroller. It did not, however, have a back-up of the former speaker’s account.

“City agencies use social media to promote initiatives and connect with New Yorkers. As part of its mission to provide public access to City records and information DORIS harvests the social media content of City agencies and public office-holders and makes it accessible on the agency website ,” Assistant Commissioner Kenneth Cobb told THE CITY. 

The agency has reached out to Adams’ office for a full archive of the account, he said. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine also compiled a book to offer a more complete archive of the former speaker’s tweets.

Social Enragement

Meanwhile, the removal of the account prompted Councilmember Gale Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side of Manhattan, to draft legislation that would further clarify what social media accounts are saved by DORIS. 

Her law would require DORIS to “save the digital records of elected officials posts on social media platforms, while they are in office,” an early draft of the bill, shared with THE CITY, says. 

“I believe in materials of history, archiving,” Brewer told THE CITY. “If we don’t do it, who will?”

While some Twitter accounts, like @NYCMayor, are carried over from one administration to the next, others are unique to the individual. 

Councilmember Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan) speaks at a City Hall press conference, May 3, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

For example, Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was Council speaker before Johnson, used her current personal Twitter account during her time in the role. 

She told THE CITY that Johnson’s speaker account should have remained on Twitter so people could easily access it. 

“I don’t understand how it was deleted, it’s about transparency in government — being able to reference and being able to search in a user-friendly way what historically has been done,” Mark-Viverito told THE CITY. 

In another example, Attorney General Tish James’s Twitter account from her days as city public advocate is still up.

Brewer also means to address the deletion of campaign websites, noting Mayor Eric Adams’ candidate and transition sites are now gone. 

“You should also have a process for all of this material for the future,” she said.

Currently, political campaigns are not required to keep websites up after elections — and one political operative told THE CITY that it’s common practice to delete the sites so as to not complicate messaging once a candidate enters elected office. It can also be costly to keep websites live.

A spokesperson for Mayor Adams declined to comment, noting that the campaign is now over. 

The Campaign Finance Board requires candidates participating in the matching-funds program to only keep documentation related to fundraising. Adams only declined the final round of matching funds in his mayoral run.

Shining Light

New York City updated its social media records retention policy last year, requiring the social media posts and other content created by more than 70 agencies be transferred to the Municipal Library, which maintains a giant cache of archives on Chambers Street in Lower Manhattan. They also recently opened a large warehouse in Brooklyn.

A social media manager at each city agency is supposed to be responsible for reporting with the library, as well as the city’s chief technology officer, a list of every social media account each year. 

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams speaks at a City Hall rally, April 21, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“Agencies are responsible for ensuring that all official social media channels are identified and provided to the Municipal Library for collection and preservation by the designated vendor,” the policy says.

The removal of these accounts from public platforms also brings up issues of transparency and of what messages government officials are trying to share, Muira McCammon, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, told THE CITY. 

She focuses on Democracy and memory, and has researched the deletion of governmental Twitter accounts. 

“What government agencies and government communicators more broadly are steadily beginning to understand, and even fear, is deletion can provoke something akin to a digital Streisand effect — where what you hoped to delete becomes center stage in press coverage,” she said. 

A series of old tweets just recently cost one Brooklyn political operative his job. Andy Marte resigned as director of Brooklyn Democratic Party after THE CITY revealed pro-Trump tweets on an account featuring his name, photo and biography.

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