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Burbank resident asks councilman to change name of Facebook group

A longstanding Facebook group has drawn criticism from a Burbank resident who says it needs to be more transparent.

For the past year and half, resident David Hunter said he has been frustrated and confused about a Facebook group called “City of Burbank” — a private group created by Councilman Jess Talamantes.

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Hunter has tried to join the group — which as of Tuesday had 5,280 members — but has yet to have any luck. However, that is not why he is upset.

He said he is frustrated that, although the Facebook group’s description is to promote open dialogue among residents in the city, the group’s administrators — Talamantes and his son, Scott — get to pick and choose who gets to be a part of the conversation.

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“[The description of the group] is written as if this group is open to everybody that’s in Burbank — whether you work here, live here or have kids that go to school here, but clearly it’s not,” Hunter said.

Councilman Talamantes started the group nine years ago when he was first elected to City Council and wanted it to be a place where residents can stay informed about what was happening around Burbank, he said.

However, Talamantes said some group members became negative toward one another and the city, which was not what he wanted to happen.

“There was a lot of negative stuff, and I didn’t want that,” he said.

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Having his son be the group’s gatekeeper and weeding out negative members has worked out well so far, the councilman said.

“Somebody’s got to draw the line,” Talamantes said. “Anybody can start their own Facebook group or page. If somebody doesn’t like how this Facebook group is being run, start your own.”

Hunter said he understands the councilman can have a private Facebook group, decide who gets to be a part of it and weed out those who are there to spread negativity.

What Hunter said he wants is for Talamantes and his son to consider changing the name of the group or even the group’s description so others aren’t misled into thinking it’s an all-inclusive group.

Dr. Karen North, director of USC Annenberg’s digital social media program and a clinical professor at the private university, concurred with Hunter, saying a similar conundrum came up when former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s social media staff members were deciding whether he should have an account called “The Mayor of Los Angeles” or an account bearing his name.

“As an elected official, [Councilman Talamantes] should not put up a page or a group that is the name of the city because it would suggest that it’s the city’s page,” she said. “But there’s probably no rule against it because it’s a private business.”

First Amendment rights protect speech in a public setting but not in a private business or home, she added.

Though many social-media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are open to be viewed by the public, users still have the right and ability to block anyone they choose.

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Hunter said Talamantes’ Facebook group reminded him of the issue surrounding President Donald Trump’s Twitter account, in which a New York judge ruled the president could not block users from reading his tweets.

“Twitter and Facebook are private businesses, and they can establish whatever rules they want,” she said. “Just because the president uses [social media] as a vehicle doesn’t make it into a public venue.”

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