A woman cyberstalked Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton between 2015 and 2016, prompting the mayor’s office to repeatedly block the individual on Facebook out of safety concerns.
The mayor’s office and the Phoenix Police Department wouldn’t provide details on the stalking incident, but Stanton’s chief of staff, Seth Scott, said that the mayor’s team only blocks individuals when there are security concerns.
Scott wrote in an email, “To my knowledge, our staff has not blocked anyone for trolling or any other speech-related issue. Unless, of course, it becomes a safety issue – which is exceptionally rare.”
After Phoenix New Times filed a records request for a list of individuals blocked by Stanton on social media, the city’s public records request coordinator, Kristen Merser, explained that the city had redacted one name from the list of Stanton’s blocked Facebook users. The city was concerned that if the woman's name was reported, the cyberstalking would resume.
“On several occasions after the Mayor blocked her, this person created new email addresses and began haranguing the Mayor again,” Merser wrote in an email. “The City Attorney has advised that disclosure of this person’s identity is not in the City’s best interest because the person blocked is likely to cyberstalk the Mayor again if her identity is disclosed.”
The mayor's staff refused to explain the nature of the cyberstalking, nor did they elaborate on why an individual "haranguing" the mayor led to the user being repeatedly banned. They deferred questions related to the mayor's security to the police.
The records show five blocked accounts with redacted names that Stanton banned between February 2015 and fall 2016.
Initially, the mayor’s staff directed all questions related to the cyberstalking to the Phoenix Police Department. Jonathan Howard, a police spokesperson, declined to elaborate on the stalking incident.
“At this time, any additional release of information would further jeopardize the safety and security of the mayor, his staff, and events he attends,” Howard wrote.
In addition to the cyberstalker's accounts, on Facebook Stanton also blocks an individual named Pauline Polishchuk, as well as a Facebook page, “Support and Resources for Arizona Whistleblowers.” A Scottsdale resident named A.J. James runs the page, which has almost 50 followers and claims to provide “resources and support for Whistleblowers experiencing retaliation.”
So why was Stanton blocking a whistleblowers page? Scott said that he put the question to a former social media staffer who managed Stanton's account around the time when Stanton blocked the whistleblowers page in June 2017.
The staffer "has no recollection of blocking the account you identified and said it was likely it was inadvertent," Scott wrote in an email.
James, who is 37, told New Times in a message that she was blocked by Stanton after sharing a complaint against a police officer to his page.
"It was a text post with a link to my website," James wrote. "The text contained a brief summary of the allegations against the officer, and a request to speak to someone from Internal Affairs."
Stanton, a Democrat, has served as mayor of Phoenix since 2012. He has announced that he will run for Congress in Arizona's Ninth District, meaning that he must resign as mayor before the end of this month.
Stanton also blocks 295 people on Twitter, according to the list obtained through a public records request.
There are no recognizable names on Stanton's blocked list. Many of Stanton's blocked Twitter accounts have no profile image and feature usernames in other languages.
Scott said that during early to mid-2017, many bots began following Stanton's Twitter account. The mayor’s communications staff determined that these accounts were “very clearly bots, many of which were sexually explicit,” Scott said. If Stanton's social media staffer wasn't positive that an account was a bot, he usually wouldn't block the user, Scott said.
Some politicians, like Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar, have a controversial habit of blocking people on social media. One of Gosar's constituents sued the congressman last year, with the assistance of the ACLU. The ACLU's attorneys argue that because an elected official's social media feed constitutes a public forum, officials like Gosar don't have the right to block people based on what they say.
Scott described Stanton's lengthy list of blocked accounts as a result of the surge in bot followers.
“That type of activity can happen from time to time, and we reserve the right to block those kinds of accounts,” Scott wrote.
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