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Ethics Commission to regulate City Hall's social media accounts

The Ethics Commission is backing a proposal requiring Los Angeles' elected officials to create new social media accounts for their political campaigns.
The Ethics Commission is backing a proposal requiring Los Angeles' elected officials to create new social media accounts for their political campaigns.

Elected officials running for office in Los Angeles would be required to create new social media accounts for their campaigns under a policy endorsed last week by the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.

The proposal is intended to separate a candidate’s political work from his government work. Commissioners are expected to approve an ordinance in July to implement the proposal. It will then require approval from the Los Angeles City Council.

“Candidates often use those accounts to post information about their personal lives and professional work, in addition to information about their political campaigns.  When the candidates are also sitting elected officials, the line between government and campaign-related information is easily blurred,” according to a report from the Ethics Commission.

Three Los Angeles city officials running for mayor frequently use Facebook and Twitter -- none more so than Councilman Eric Garcetti, who is known to send his own tweets about policy, food and sports, and who frequently interacts with his 6,296 followers. A generic account for the Thirteenth District council office has 211 followers.

“The question is: is there a need to differentiate between Eric the person and Eric the campaign or Eric the city council member," said Yusef Robb, deputy chief of staff to Garcetti. "If so, how exactly do you do that and does that mean we have one feed where Eric talks about his personal life, one his political life, and one his City Hall life."

The councilman welcome any guidance or clarity provided by the commission, Robb said. 

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had tweeted from the @villaraigosa account, where he had 46,779 followers, until yesterday, when his office switched the handle to @LAMayorsOffice. For his personal use, the mayor moved his old handle to a new account, which as of Friday had 160 followers. A spokesman for the mayor’s office said that switch was not prompted by the Ethics Commission’s pending policy.

The decision to split Villaraigosa’s personal and political messages from ones about official city business is the right move, said Karen North, director of USC Annenberg’s Program on Online Communities. 

“If you’re talking about sitting in a government office, using government equipment, being used by government staff … that should be done for the job and for the people, and basically in a nonpartisan way,” North said.

“Campaigns are separate and it wouldn’t be fair for an elected official to use taxpayer resources in order to promote his or her election or reelection campaign.”

In New York, Chicago and Newark, each mayor maintains a personal account and an official city account. Both are important, according to North.

“Social media is thriving because it allows people to feel that they have a personal connection with somebody and they can communicate with them in some way,” North said.