ACLU sues Maryland, Kentucky governors over social media censorship

ACLU sues Maryland, Kentucky governors over social media censorship
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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed lawsuits against the governors of Maryland and Kentucky, claiming they violated constituents' First Amendment rights by blocking individuals from official social media accounts.

The organization’s Kentucky branch filed a lawsuit Monday on behalf of several constituents, while its Maryland branch filed suit on Tuesday. Both suits ask for injunctions to stop Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) from blocking constituents on social media accounts.

"The highest purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the right of Americans to engage in political speech and to petition the government to address their concerns," Deborah Jeon, who serves as the ACLU of Maryland’s legal director, said in a statement.

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"As the Supreme Court ruled in June, and a federal judge in Virginia echoed just last week, social media has become a vital means for constituents to communicate with their elected officials. It violates both the First Amendment and Maryland's own social media guidelines for government officials to block out any voices of dissent or those simply raising questions about positions taken by public officials sworn to serve."

A spokesperson for Hogan's office dismissed the lawsuit as "frivolous" and "a waste of taxpayer dollars."

"The governor’s office has a very clear social media policy, and we will continue to remove all hateful and violent content and coordinated spam attacks to foster an open and constructive dialogue," said deputy communications director Amelia Chassé in a statement.
 
"Ultimately, with all of the challenges we face in this country and across the globe, we can all agree that the ACLU should be focusing on more important issues than monitoring Facebook pages.”

One of the Maryland plaintiffs said she was a Democrat who voted for Hogan and was blocked from his Facebook page after asking the governor to issue a statement on President Trump’s travel ban.

“My comment was deleted and I was blocked from the page. From the moment it happened, I couldn't believe Governor Hogan would block people who disagreed with him, but who weren't rude or threatening,” Meredith Phillips said. “Deleting any comment from constituents that doesn't praise or agree with Governor Hogan is a violation of free speech." 

The lawsuits come several weeks after a First Amendment group sued Trump for blocking social media accounts that exhibit dissenting opinions.

William Sharp, the legal director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said in a statement that “the First Amendment does not allow the government to exclude speakers from a public forum because it disagrees with their viewpoint.”

“And even when the government seeks to enforce permissible limits in such a forum, permanently excluding individuals for violating those limits goes too far,” Sharp added.