Silver Spring resident Chris Barnes, the man behind the Twitter handle @FixWMATA, woke up this morning to find he was blocked by the very agency he follows, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Twitter was abuzz during Tuesday’s evening rush hour after an electrical fire started under a Metro rail car at the Silver Spring station on the red line. Barnes lives and works about three blocks away from the station and was retweeting information from riders on Twitter to spread the word.
Sometime between midnight and Wednesday morning, Barnes said WMATA blocked him from their account, which keeps him from replying to tweets and seeing thread conversations between WMATA and riders.
“All that they’ve accomplished is slowing down me re-tweeting their tweets. Yesterday was not any different kind of tone than I’ve every had with them,” Barnes said Wednesday afternoon. “The real problem is that they are blocking people at all.”
Caroline Lukas of Metro’s Media Relations sent a statement to The Gazette from Lynn Bowersox, Assistant General Manager for Customer Service, Communications and Marketing on the issue:
“Our Twitter feed is primarily to provide Metro service information for riders. Violating reasonable boundaries of professional, civil discourse with profanity, personal attacks and inaccurate speculation is not a service to riders,” the statement read.
Barnes is not alone. The Twitter account @FireDrGridlock was also blocked from WMATA when it changed its avatar, which pokes fun at The Washington Post’s Dr. Gridlock.
Elayne Burke of Washington, D.C., follows Barnes and said she was once blocked by WMATA unintentionally. When she asked why she was blocked, WMATA said it was a “mistake” and unblocked her, Burke said.
Burke said she isn’t quite sure why WMATA blocked Barnes’ account.
“He was a little bit snarky last night, as I think we all were, in response to them tweeting about the ‘fire [department] activity’ but I don’t at all think that was grounds to block him,” she said in an email, noting that she is glad there is a dialogue but hopes there is a day when the area will have a “safe and reliable mode of transportation” that many other cities enjoy.
According to WMATA’s Social Media Policy, the agency’s social media channels allow the agency to “engage in dialogue with our customers and the general public.” It also says that WMATA encourages constructive feedback and discussion.
Among what is prohibited by their social media guidelines are obscene, threatening or harassing language; verbal attacks and/or discriminatory comments; comments advocating activity on Metro property that is dangerous or illegal; and comments that do not relate to the topic for WMATA’s social media page or post.
Barnes created the account in 2010 to track hot cars, which a lot of people were complaining about, he said. WMATA reached out to Barnes about a possible partnership with the agency on hot cars, which he said never came to fruition.
Barnes said he noticed that WMATA “wasn’t responding to riders” about their concerns, so Barnes said he began using the account to retweet the concerns of riders and information about delays.
So far, the account has garnered more than 3,300 followers and has been added to more than 170 lists, according to Barnes.
“I’m just here to try to help people,” Barnes said.