In a bold move, the City of Mount Dora announced today that it would no longer allow public comments on any of its social media pages, including those of the city government, police department, parks department and fire department.
The policy is highly uncommon in American cities since it discourages the expression of contrasting points of view which creates negative public relations. All other Lake County cities allow public comments on their social media, as do larger cities like Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles.
The new policy was posted to the City’s Facebook page, as well as the Police Department’s Facebook page, stating “To better serve City of Mount Dora residents and visitors, we have made the conscious decision to turn off the commenting and messaging features on all of our social media accounts beginning Friday, January 27th, 2023.” An email address and phone number were then provided.
The Facebook post did not elaborate on how the new censorship policy aligns with better serving the public or promoting public trust. Shortly after the post was made, comments were prohibited, which was days ahead of the date stated.
Mount Dora’s social media and communication strategies are the responsibility of its Public Information Officer, Vershurn Ford. Ford reports to the City Manager, Patrick Comiskey, who answers to the Mayor and City Council.
The City has recently been the target of harassment by self-described First Amendment watchdogs and has also come under fire for a proposed controversial development in its planned Innovation District. It's unclear if those factors played a role in the opaque new policy. By contrast, other cities develop communication strategies that prevent or mitigate negative publicity, rather than initiate censorship policies that exacerbate it and erode public trust.
Mount Dora’s new social media policy doesn’t violate the First Amendment. However, it dances on a line that American municipal governments and elected officials typically choose not encroach upon out of concerns for transparency and public relations. The City of Mount Dora can still be reached by phone at 352-735-7100.