ACLU urges Hogan to cease blocking, censoring comments on Facebook

Posted at 10:39 PM, Feb 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-19 23:24:28-05

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland is taking action against Governor Larry Hogan, accusing him of unconstitutionally censoring the speech by constituents on his official Facebook page. 

Friday, the group sent a letter to the governor urging him to cease blocking and censoring comments on his page. The letter was sent on behalf of seven of the governor's constituents who said their First Amendment rights were violated when their comments were hidden or deleted or they were blocked from posting on the governor's page. 

"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."

Those represented by the ACLU are women who are mothers, teachers, a lawyer, occupational therapist, technical writer, and computer programmer from Annapolis, Baltimore City, Bethesda, Brookeville and other parts of Maryland. 

Recently, several of the ACLU's clients asked Governor Hogan to speak out against President Trump's actions they believed were harmful or un-American. Their comments raised concerns about some of the governor's positions, which is why the ACLU's clients believe they were deleted or hidden from public view. 

"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."

Social media has become the new public forum for government officials to communicate their messages to voters and in which citizens can voice their views in response. 

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."