Arizona governor Doug Ducey has launched a controversial new initiative to publicly shame suspected “deadbeat dads,” tweeting out their names and faces using a social media account operated by a state agency.
During his State of the State address, the Republican on Monday issued a stark warning to the “fathers out there who aren’t meeting their obligations.”
“For too long, you’ve been able to remain anonymous,” he said, “able to skirt your financial and legal responsibilities with no shame.”
“Some people have referred to me as the ‘hashtag governor’,” Ducey continued, referencing at least one newspaper headline. “Well here’s a new one for all the deadbeat dads out there: Effective immediately, the state is going to begin posting the photos, names and money owed by these losers to social media, with the hashtag ‘deadbeat.'”
He wasn’t kidding.
Hours later, the state Department of Economic Security tweeted the name and image of a man wanted by authorities for allegedly failing to pay more than $170,000 in child support. Included in the text is the hashtag, “#deadbeat.”
Tasya Peterson, a DES spokeswoman, told CNN on Tuesday the department plans to “highlight” a total of 421 non-custodial parents who have accrued heavy debts over the past five years.
“This issue is about awareness and accountability,” Peterson said in an email. “Arizona law has long [since 1999] required the Department of Economic Security to post these photos and information to the website, but Governor Ducey and Director Jeffries are aiming to amplify these efforts using social media.”
The practice of naming and shaming lawbreakers is hardly new, but the permanent nature of an internet posting — as opposed to a “wanted” sign nailed to a saloon door — paired with concerns about their utility, has raised new doubts.
In a 2014 article, Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that “the widespread digital availability” of mugshots or livestreamed images of a suspect “has a dark side.”
“We should be thoughtful about the records we make public,” she wrote, “because you can’t ever rebottle that genie.”
“There are all kinds of potential legal concerns surrounding public shaming and I don’t know that there’s any evidence that it works,” Arizona House Minority Leader Eric Meyer told CNN.
“These are parents who, for whatever reason, may not have jobs, and there are lots of Arizonans who may not have jobs, so if you don’t have money to pay the bills, yeah, you’re a ‘deadbeat dad,'” but [the families] are not going to get any money anyway.”
In his speech on Monday, Ducey took a more narrow view of the issue.
“If you don’t want your embarrassing — unlawful — and irresponsible behavior going viral: Man up, and pay up,” he said.
Elected in 2014 to replace the term-limited Jan Brewer, Ducey, the former CEO of Cold Stone Creamery, is no stranger to criticism over what some have described as his overzealous use of social media.
In September, he tweeted, “BREAKING: We got him! DPS SWAT team is in custody of the individual suspected of I-10 shootings. Apprehended moments ago,” after state law enforcement arrested a 21-year-old they believed responsible for a series of random highway shootings.
“When he says, ‘We got him,’ you don’t ‘get’ somebody until they’re convicted or plead guilty,” a criminal defense attorney not involved in the case told the Arizona Republic after the incident. “He’s assuming this young man is guilty.”