A Twitter Critic of the White House was recently unmasked and fired from his Obama administration job. According to the Daily Beast, Jofi Joseph, a member of in the National Security Staff was terminated from his position after he was caught as the person behind the Twitter handle @natsecwonk.
In the past, those who wanted to criticize the President and/or his staff would reach out to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post or another reporter and the information would end up in the newspaper and/or in a book. However, now it appears that internal administration critics are going directly to the public via Twitter and/or other digital platforms.
At first glance, it doesn't appear that Mr. Joseph released top secret material in his Tweets. Anonymous digital postings are usually not very reliable. However, Mr. Joseph's unmasking and termination has now provided some credibility to the anonymous Tweets that previously were not given much weight by those outside the administration. According to Mr. Joseph's comments to Politico, "[w]hat started out as an intended parody account of DC culture developed
over time into a series of inappropriate and mean-spirited comments."
Why is the Obama administration spending tremendous resources hunting down Twitter critics? The administration has been actively targeting journalists and their sources for some time. How did the White House actually unmask its Twitter critic? Did the White House ask for and receive Twitter's assistance? Does the administration realize that silencing a Twitter critic has made the matter worse because of the Streisand Effect? Since the Tweets in question appear to be just inappropriate and mean-spirited why should the administration care?
Mishandling and/or leaking classified documents and/or information may be a crime depending upon the circumstances. If Mr. Joseph's digital activities violated any laws he should be prosecuted like anyone else. However, posting negative Tweets about those in the government is not a crime. In a democracy, this is called exercising our freedom of speech rights. Last week, I spoke to a group of international government officials who wanted to know what to do when someone anonymously mocks them online. My response was to "get some thicker skin".
While there may be some potential First Amendment, employee/employer, and national security legal issues to address once all of the facts have come to light, at the end of the day this is about a person who happens to be a government employee Tweeting anonymously about his personal observations and/or thoughts about the inner workings of the government. Nothing more.
President Obama is the first President to become elected because of social media and his administration has utilized multiple digital platforms to convey his message directly to the entire world without a media filter. Its time for some members of the President's inner circle to get some thicker skin and realize they are the first administration to govern in the Social Media Age. The administration's "Twitter critic mole hunt" raises more questions than it answers.
Copyright 2013 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.