The commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) under Gov. Tim Walz has been hit with a lawsuit for failing to identify those on his alleged Twitter “block list.”
Filed in Minnesota District Court Nov. 10, the lawsuit claims Commissioner Steve Grove blocked multiple Minnesotans on Twitter during the COVID pandemic, thus depriving them of “governmental updates” and the ability to “[participate] in the public forum.”
In addition, the lawsuit claims Grove and DEED violated the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA) and the Official Records Act by failing to provide in a timely manner the list of blocked Twitter users upon the request of journalist Tony Webster, who is the sole plaintiff in the case.
Gov. Walz appointed Grove as employment commissioner in January 2019. The complaint states that Grove uses a Twitter account under his own name to “collect” and “disseminate” government data, as well as interact with Minnesotans about the “accomplishments” of DEED and answer any questions they may have.
The lawsuit argues such information is “essential” and that Grove’s account acts as a “public forum for Minnesotans to discuss state actions and state policy, expressing their approval or disapproval of government actions.”
Webster, a student at the University of Wyoming, specializes in stories pertaining to the public interest. The complaint describes him as an expert on public records issues.
“Intending to research, analyze, and report on this issue, Mr. Webster submitted a request under the MGDPA seeking a list of all accounts blocked by Twitter accounts operated by DEED or Commissioner Grove, along with policy and data inventory documents the MGDPA requires government entities to prepare,” the complaint reads.
“DEED violated the MGDPA’s promptness requirements by failing to produce any responsive data for over six months. When DEED did finally produce some data, they provided MGDPA policy documents which had curiously been updated after Mr. Webster’s request had been submitted, along with incomplete Twitter block list data which was converted to a less usable form,” it adds.
Webster is seeking an “order compelling Defendants’ compliance, damages, an injunction, declaratory judgment, fees, costs, and a civil penalty.”
“Commissioner Grove has consistently used his personal Twitter account to send messages to the Minnesota public about DEED’s actions and initiatives. In doing so, he’s blocked a number of people from receiving those messages,” said James Dickey, senior trial counsel at the Upper Midwest Law Center, which is representing Webster.
“Minnesotans deserve to know whom he has blocked from receiving important government information — government actors can’t use their personal social media to avoid transparency requirements under state law. We believe the court will uphold government transparency by ordering disclosure of the requested information,” he added.
DEED declined to comment.