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April 2, 2018

VICTORY: ACLU Wins Free Speech Settlement Over Governor Hogan's Facebook Censorship

New Social Media Policy Provides Broad Access for Constituents, 

Bars Targeted Blocking Over Political Views

BALTIMORE, MD - In a victory for the free speech rights of constituents who wish to respectfully disagree and promote their political views with their elected officials, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland today announced that the state Board of Public Works (BPW) has approved a settlement reached in the constituent social media banning case brought against Governor Larry Hogan. The ACLU lawsuit is one in a wave of high-profile cases across the country against elected officials charged with trying to silence constituents on social media - including one case brought against President Donald Trump for blocking constituents on Twitter. BPW approval is a key hurdle in finalizing the settlement, which must now be fully implemented within 14 days.

The Maryland settlement includes a new social media policy that will govern Gov. Hogan's Facebook page, mandates the creation of a second Facebook page dedicated to providing a public forum where constituents can raise a host of issues for the governor's attention, and creates an appeals process for constituents who feel their comments have been improperly deleted, or that they have been wrongfully blocked.

Key highlights of the Office of the Governor's new social media policy: 

1.     Mandates that the Governor will not discriminate based on viewpoint, and will permit all commentary on his Facebook page on any past topic he has covered;

2.     Also calls for the creation of a second "Constituent Message Page" as an additional social media forum with and among users and the Governor about any topic related to governmental concerns - even topics Governor Hogan has not addressed in the past;

3.     Creates a process to contest restriction of access to the Governor's social media platforms.

4.     Governs all of Governor Hogan's social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Youtube.

"I originally joined the Governor's Facebook page so I could learn about his positions about education issues, and when it became clear that the Governor's positions differ from my own, I engaged in conversation," said Janice Lepore, one of four plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "It never occurred to me that the Governor, or his staff, would seek to prohibit me from engaging in conversations in a public forum, simply because my opinions differ from their positions. Nor did it ever occur to me that when these prohibitions became public, the Governor and his staff would malign those of us who had been silenced. I hope this settlement will promote greater access and engagement for all Maryland citizens."

In August 2017, the ACLU filed suit against Gov. Hogan on behalf of four individuals, among the hundreds reported being wrongfully banned or blocked, challenging his policy of censoring constituents' speech on his official Facebook page by blocking those who disagree with him and deleting their comments.

"Across the country over the last year, the importance of social media to political discourse by elected officials and their constituents has been recognized with rulings from the Supreme Court and other courts, and we are excited to see Maryland in the forefront of protecting speech rights in this context with this model social media policy," said Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland.

The plaintiffs are represented by pro bono attorneys Lisa Zycherman and Christopher Savage of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, and ACLU of Maryland Legal Director Deborah Jeon.