San Jose officials to crack down on social media rules
District 7 San Jose Councilmember Bien Doan at his election night party on Nov. 8, 2022. File photo.

    After a myriad of messy transitions including former San Jose officials impersonating their successors, holding social media accounts hostage and preventing access to mailing lists, the city is looking to create rules to ensure it doesn’t happen in the next election.

    District 7 Councilmember Bien Doan wants council-related websites and social media accounts to be owned by the city so mailing lists and domains that residents frequent are not lost when a councilmember leaves office. The city’s Rules and Open Government committee unanimously approved his idea this week, and social media and digital property policy proposals will come to the full San Jose City Council in a couple months.

    “The goal is to ensure that all councilmembers have a seamless and uniform transition for the benefit of our constituents,” Doan said.

    Doan’s request follows months of trying to retrieve constituent mailing lists from two District 7 website domains previously owned by the city, as well as a Facebook page. His predecessor, Maya Esparza, refused to turn them over despite multiple demands by the city clerk, city manager and attorney’s office.

    “We tried to exhaust every possible avenue,” Doan said. “We need to take some type of action at this point.”

    He wants to make sure official social media and mailing list accounts are tied to a “.gov” email so it’s city property.

    The first-year councilmember wants to ensure these are the primary accounts used to disseminate information from those in office. Doan said he also wants the city to purchase council district website domains so when turnover happens, the city can determine who manages them.

    Assistant City Manager Lee Wilcox said the policy may not be that clear cut because there are legal barriers around the government regulating someone’s personal social media usage.

    He said councilmembers often turn their personal social media accounts into their official city accounts, so it’s not clear if the city could then claim them.

    “(Should we) specifically create a district account (for them to use)?” Wilcox said.  “I don’t know the answers to those (questions), but I know from working with the social media companies thus far it is extremely complicated for a lot of government institutions.”

    But Doan believes a councilmember should not be able to transform a personal account into a professional one because it can create confusion among residents. Because Esparza still claims to be the current District 7 councilmember on Facebook, Doan is flagged every time he tries to make a councilmember account. Residents may also be led to believe that she still represents the district, Doan said.

    Councilmember David Cohen said the best solution is for the city to have its own central mailing system with resident contact information instead of relying on third-party companies like Mailchimp. The city approved plans and a new position to build up a system about two years ago, but there hasn’t been much movement. The position has yet to be filled, Deputy City Manager Rob Lloyd said.

    Cohen said he dealt with similar problems from his predecessor Lan Diep, who held onto the @SanJoseD4 username on X, formerly known as Twitter. Cohen then made an account named @D4SanJose. He also created a new Mailchimp account because he assumed it’s what every councilmember does.

    There are also two different District 6 websites: still sports former Councilmember now-Planning Commissioner Pierluigi Oliverio’s name, and used by current Councilmember Dev Davis.

    “This is about overarching policies, not about individual needs of any office,” Cohen said. “It’s been a frustration for all of us about the lack of standardization as we come in and try to communicate with our constituents.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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