Hoboken City Council rejects plan to fine lawmakers who block people on social media

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FILE – This March 29, 2018 file photo shows the Facebook logo on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York’s Times Square. With vaccination against COVID-19 in full swing, social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter say they’ve stepped up their fight against misinformation that aims to undermine trust in the vaccines. But problems abound. For years, the same platforms have allowed anti-vaccination propaganda to flourish, making it difficult to stamp out such sentiments now. And their efforts to weed out other types of COVID-19 misinformation – often with fact-checks, informational labels and other restrained measures, has been woefully slow. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

HOBOKEN, N.J. — An ordinance to prohibit members of the Hoboken City Council from blocking people on social media was defeated Wednesday night.

The law, introduced by Councilmembers Phil Cohen and Emily Jabbour, would have imposed up to a $500 fine for each individual the elected official blocks on their official social media feeds, including Facebook and Twitter.

Cohen and Jabbour were clearly targeting fellow councilmember Mike DeFusco with the ordinance in statements leading up to the vote, with a press release not only mentioning him but quoting someone who claimed to have been blocked by DeFusco.

Councilmember DeFusco has recently come under controversy for claims of leaving the country and renting his residence out on Airbnb during the pandemic. DeFusco and his allies called it a political hit job.

Cohen and Jabbour said they introduced the ordinance after getting complaints from people whom they say “for years” have been blocked on Twitter and Facebook by DeFusco, including some who have been blocked recently over criticism of the Airbnb story.

DeFusco defended himself and that his actions were a response to hateful social media attacks.

“Since first running for public office, I’ve been the subject of homophobic attacks and in response I did block a handful of people from social media to protect myself and my family,” DeFusco told PIX11 News in a statement. “Criticisms have been as subtle as mocking the color of my clothes to as drastic as calling my ex-partner’s employer to harass him at work, which ultimately led to the end of my relationship. At the end of the day I’m not just an elected official, I’m a human being.”

He’s since said he’s unblocked anyone who had been blocked prior to the ordinance.

“Bullying in all forms is unacceptable and inappropriate and my page is not taxpayer and entirely separate from official city business,” he continued. “Regardless, I’ve chosen to unblock people from my account out of an abundance of caution because my time is better spent working on real policy for Hoboken rather than arguing about overtly political stunts in an election year and engaging with Twitter trolls questioning personal matters that involve my boyfriend and his family.”

The ordinance was defeated 5-4, with DeFusco voting against it.

“While we would have liked to have seen this ordinance advance to second reading so that the public could weigh in on this matter of great public interest, we are gratified that by our introducing this legislation, Councilman DeFusco has now ‘unblocked’ many individuals he had previously prohibited from engaging on his ‘Councilman Mike DeFusco’ social media platforms, including those who recently asked legitimate questions about his Airbnb rentals and overseas travels during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cohen and Jabbour said in a statement. “We strongly maintain that any official social media account which communicates about official city business must not unfairly censor individuals and infringe on First Amendment rights.”

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