Legislator Asks County Attorney to Draft Policy on Social Media Use

Joe Lorigo concerned about the use of social media among elected officials

January 14, 2019 - 12:49 am

BUFFALO (WBEN) -  Erie County Executice Mark Poloncarz maintains an aggressive profile on Twitter, tweeting about everything from county policy to sports.  And his use of the social media platform is continuing to call into question the use of social media by county officials. 

The controversy erupted in recent weeks when Poloncarz was served a notice of claim from the owners Emerald South Nursing Home who say his tweets defamed them.

There hasn't been a lawsuit filed to this point, but the hypothetical idea of a future lawsuit has some legislators worried about which entity would cover the cost.

"I hand delivered a letter to the county attorney asking him to come up with a social media policy for Erie County elected officials because of the inherent conflict that exists with personal accounts and government information," said Erie County Legislator Joe Lorigo. "Everybody in Erie County knows that Mark Poloncarz has a very heavy social media presence, and that's great. The concern arises when he claims that his personal Twitter or Facebook is personal and not official county business, but taxpayers are being asked to foot the bill for behavior that he's done there."

Read the letter below:

Lorigo brought up a couple of examples to try and prove his point.

"The other issue is, and I've noticed this more recently, if you look, every single press conference the county executive has, he's live tweeting it from his quote personal Twitter account," he said. "Someone is doing that as a county employee, and I think now we're in a gray area. Is that personal Twitter account now an official Twitter account? I think it is."

However, according to legal analyst Paul Cambria, if he were defending Poloncarz, he would argue that it shouldn't matter what medium the county executive uses to communicate an idea because no matter where he says something, he's still the county executive.

"For example, when President Trump tweets things, he's still the President," said Cambria. "He could have been interviewing on the radio; he could have been on television. He used a Twitter account. The point is [he] was acting as the county executive when [he] made the statement, and as a result, he should be reimbursed if he's sued."

Cambria also said that opinions cannot be ruled as defamatory.

"I guess the thing that you've got to focus on is when he made any statement, was he making it as that county executive, and was it his opinion, in regard to the nursing home, and further, his opinion as to the welfare of county residents?" asked Cambria. "If I were defending him, I would say that the opinion was one that was stated in his official position. Secondly, it was an opinion that he was expressing for the benefit of the residents of the county."

We reached out to the office of Mark Poloncarz, and they stated that the county executive has done nothing wrong in this regard.

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