The Republican also uses the social media platform to quiet his critics.
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said those who were blocked were believed to be part of an organized campaign, which several of the blocked commenters denied.
Mayer said the governor’s office has blocked 450 people since Hogan took office two years ago. About half were blocked for using “hateful or racist” language, he said. The rest were blocked after the 2014 riots in Baltimore or during the days since the travel ban — each time, Mayer said, because the governor’s office thought the postings were part of a “coordinated attack.”
“All I did was ask my governor to speak out, and I was blacklisted,” said Gretchen Weigel Doughty, a Takoma Park resident who said she messaged Hogan about the ban on her own, without outside guidance.
“I said, ‘I’m an independent, and you’re going to lose my vote if you don’t speak out on this issue.’ ”
Trump’s executive order, which barred refugees as well as citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, affected thousands of travelers and sparked an avalanche of criticism, including from Gov. Charlie Baker (R-Mass.) and other Republicans. Democrats in Maryland urged Hogan to weigh in, too.
When he stayed silent, thousands of people called his office and sent Facebook comments asking him to denounce the ban — often after reading social-media postings from others who had already sent such messages.
The governor’s office does not have a specific policy for handling comments on Hogan’s page, which has more than 146,500 likes. Mayer said most of the removed comments were “vulgar, derogatory, hateful or racist,” but aides have also deleted those that are a part of an organized effort.
“We encourage debate and all manners of political discourse on the governor’s page,” Mayer said. “But it doesn’t mean we will let an outside group with their own political motivation to hijack the governor’s page.”
Aides to other top elected officials in the region, including Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and Maryland Attorney General Brian K. Frosh, all Democrats, said they only delete comments or block posters that are racist or incendiary.
Mayer said “anarchists” flooded Hogan’s Facebook page with comments after the unrest in Baltimore and were subsequently blocked, meaning their comments were deleted and they were unable to post again.
He said the blocked travel-ban commenters appeared to be posting as part of an effort coordinated by “Pantsuit Nation,” a Facebook group created in support of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton late in the 2016 campaign.
Mayer said the posters did not identify themselves as part of Pantsuit Nation. But the staff viewed it as a coordinated attack because the posts occurred “all at once and contained very similar language.”
One comment came from Suzanne Nash of Chevy Chase, who said she decided to send a message after seeing coverage of the travel ban while waiting to board a flight from Arizona. She said she asked Hogan to help Artiman Jalali, a 5-year-old Iranian American boy from Bethesda, who was detained for hours at Washington Dulles International Airport without his mother.
Nash said she is a member of Pantsuit Nation but that her involvement in it had nothing to do with her message to Hogan.
“It feels insulting,” Nash said of having her voice removed from the public page.
Mayer said that “when an outside group decides to spam the page,” even people who post independently “might unfortunately get caught up” in being blocked or deleted.
Erich Sommerfeldt, a public relations professor at the University of Maryland, said deleting negative comments, rather than responding to them, can hurt a company or public figure’s brand.
“Organizations who delete negative Facebook comments are perceived as less honest, less genuine and less trustworthy than organizations who simply respond to the negative comments,” Sommerfeldt said.
“People want and expect transparency when communicating with public figures and companies online. Engaging with negative commenters may be the last thing you want to do, but it’s a better way to get to the root of the problem.”
Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for Frosh, said the attorney general’s office deletes posts only if they contain profanity or are threatening. “It’s a government Facebook, and people have the right to post their feelings,” she said.
McAuliffe communications director Brian Coy said staffers occasionally delete comments that are “unduly incendiary” or contain profanity from the Virginia governor’s official Facebook page.
“If you look at our page, there is a very healthy and two-sided discussion underway on all manner of things,” Coy said. “That’s the function of Facebook.”
A spokesman for Bowser said her office does not delete comments from her Facebook page and blocks users only if they make threats or post racist or anti-Semitic comments. Currently, five users are blocked from posting on Bowser’s Facebook page, and two are blocked from viewing her tweets.
The Maryland Democratic Party has blocked 10 people from viewing its Facebook account since April because they posted spam or abusive comments, said party spokeswoman Jazzmen Knoderer. Maryland House Democrats have blocked one user from leaving Facebook comments, while Maryland Senate Democrats have blocked two users each from their Facebook and Twitter pages.
The Democratic pages draw far smaller audiences than Hogan’s page, which Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said averages 1 million views a week.
With Trump’s travel ban under court challenge, the number of calls to Hogan’s office about the issue appears to be waning.
Last week, Chasse said the office received nearly 2,000 calls on the issue on Jan. 30 alone. On Wednesday, Chase said the tally grew to 2,567 calls through Feb 6.
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