The Baltimore City Police's Media Relations Section abruptly began unblocking users from its Twitter account Wednesday, a day after City Paper asked for a list of its blocked accounts.
"1/4 Many people have questions about our policy on blocking a user . . ." the department tweeted about 11:30 in the first of a series of four tweets.
"2/4 For years, the only option for a someone who used profanity or racially derogatory terms on our feed was to block them
"3/4 Profanity and racially derisive language isn't tolerated on our feed which is seen by children and families.
"4/4 Criticism is never an issue. You can see that on our feed. We are currently converting the blocks over to the new mute feature."
At about the same time, Captain John Kowalczyk, a department spokesman, emailed City Paper regarding the paper's request to see the list of blocked accounts:
"By the end of today we hopefully will have converted everyone over to a mute list. We began muting people when the feature became available and as manpower permits have been working to convert all of our blocked users over to mute. We hope to complete that process by the end of today, so we won't have any more users blocked."
City Paper then asked to see the list of muted accounts, as one does.
"I have to check with our legal over privacy concerns," Kowalczyk responded. "We've publicly stated that we mute users for profanity or racially derisive language. I'm worried that we might, by releasing that list, be defaming those individuals by proxy. Would you send the request as an MPIA? That might make it easier."
The newspaper emailed the department a reminder that, like other laws, the MPIA (Maryland Public Information Act) is in effect whether it is cited in a request or not.
The police department has some 65,000 Twitter followers, a fact it has celebrated in song and story. Baltimore Twitter users have been buzzing for days about the department's penchant for blocking critics and wondering if doing so might be counterproductive to its mission of public safety.
On Twitter, muting an account makes its tweets invisible in your timeline even though you can still follow them and they can follow you. Blocked accounts receive a message effectively barring them from seeing your tweets, and vice versa.