Aides to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) have begun to unblock people from his Facebook page after criticism over his office deleting negative comments and banning critics and the threat of legal action from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.
The organization wrote to Hogan’s office on Friday to demand a review of all 450 people barred from posting on the governor’s popular social-media page. The ACLU also wanted apologies and the restoration of posting privileges for seven clients the group says were unjustly barred.
The ACLU’s letter said the removal of posts violated a state social-media policy urging managers to refrain from taking down antagonistic comments as well as constitutional free-speech protections.
“The purpose of social media is to have this exchange of ideas,” said Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland. “Once that type of a forum is established by the government and the governor, it’s not permissible to say, ‘If you agree with me, you are allowed to post. And if you don’t, there’s no place for you here.’ ”
Aides to Hogan said they have unblocked six of seven commenters who are being represented by the ACLU but have not changed their policies on deleting off-topic or abusive comments. (His office said they could not locate the seventh’s Facebook profile.)
“While the ACLU should be focusing on much more important activities than monitoring the governor’s Facebook page, we appreciated them identifying a handful of individuals — out of the over 1 million weekly viewers of the page — that may have been inadvertently denied access,” said Amelia Chasse, a Hogan spokeswoman.
“We will continue to remove any and all profane, violent, racist, and political spam commentary from the Facebook page, and encourage robust, on-topic discussion,” she said.
On Tuesday, Hogan’s office highlighted examples of abusive posts removed from the Facebook page, including images of posts calling the governor a “fat racist trump loving Facist” and accusing him of “using cancer to ensure his reelection.”
But the ACLU and other critics say people have been blocked for critical posts that used clean language.
In addition, Jeon said several people’s access to Hogan’s Facebook page was restored over the weekend, after Hogan’s office received the ACLU’s letter, but then they found themselves blocked again this week or discovered that their comments had been hidden.
Chasse said those people were blocked again for spamming the page with dozens of identical and off-topic posts.
Jeon says the ACLU is considering taking further legal action, possibly including a lawsuit.
Over the weekend, Hogan pushed back online against people who criticized him for censoring dissenting comments. “I do not block constituents who disagree with me, that whole narrative is simply false,” he posted Saturday.
Several posts criticizing him were left up on the page Saturday and Sunday, with him replying to say that the commenters were inaccurate or ill-informed.
The Maryland Democratic Party has also been criticizing Hogan on this issue. In an email to supporters Tuesday, party officials offered to hand deliver letters of complaint to his office and likened his removal of Facebook comments to congressional Republicans refusing to hold town halls.