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February 17, 2017

ACLU Takes Action on Governor Hogan's Facebook Censorship

First Amendment Rights of Constituents Violated When Comments Deleted, Hundreds Blocked from Official Social Site

For Immediate Release: _Friday, February 17, 2017

BALTIMORE, MD - Troubled that Governor Larry Hogan has unconstitutionally censored speech by constituents attempting to question or challenge his policy positions on his official Facebook page, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland today contacted Hogan on behalf of a group of constituents urging him to immediately cease blocking dissenters and censoring comments on his page. The letter was sent on behalf of seven of the governor's constituents whose First Amendment rights were violated when their comments were hidden or deleted and when they were blocked from all future posting on the governor's page.

Those represented by the ACLU are among the individual Marylanders the governor's social media outreach efforts have reached, and in response they have "liked" the governor's official Facebook page and sought to engage with him on issues of concern to them personally. The women do not know each other and do not coordinate their free speech activities among themselves or with any particular group.  They are mothers, teachers, a lawyer, occupational therapist, technical writer, and a computer programmer, from Annapolis, Bethesda, Baltimore City, Brookeville and other parts of Maryland.

"Governor Hogan needs to understand there's a big difference between a private citizen ‘unfriending' people on Facebook and a public official blocking the posts of constituents who disagree with his position on issues that affect them," said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland. "Social media has become a key way that constituents communicate with their elected leaders, and it violates both the First Amendment and Maryland's own social media policy for government officials to block out any voices of dissent or those simply raising questions about positions taken by public officials sworn to serve."

Most recently, several of the ACLU's clients raised concerns and asked the governor to speak out against actions being taken by President Trump that they believe to be harmful and un-American. But because their comments raised concerns about some of the governor's positions, or asked the governor to speak out on matters about which he has remained silent, their comments have been deleted or hidden from public view, and further, they have been blocked from future comment on the governor's page.

"I've been living in Maryland for 16 years and have never been politically active, but the situation since the election has made me realize that it is important for all of us to speak up," said ACLU client Sandra Clark of Germantown, MD.  "I've been disappointed in Governor Hogan's reluctance to speak up and I hope that he starts working with all Marylanders and not just the ones who voted for him. It felt demoralizing and as if I was being told to shut up and that my thoughts and concerns weren't valid when my Facebook comments were deleted and I was blocked from the governor's page. That's not what I understand our constitution and our government to be about."

In today's world, as both our courts and the Maryland government have observed, social media has become the new "town square" - a forum in which government officials communicate their messages to voters, and in which citizens can voice their views in response. Social media has "emerged as a hub for sharing information and opinions with one's larger community," the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit noted recently.  On its website, Maryland's Department of Information Technology (DoIT Maryland) even touts the importance of social media use by Maryland officials to inform and engage people in the state's work.

The ACLU letter also requests a full review of the 450 people whose posting privileges have been barred in the last two years and restore all those who have been unlawfully banned from speaking their minds.