Tuesday, August 1, 2017

ACLU Sues Hogan Over Blocking Of Facebook Users



RadioOnFire.com -The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is filing a federal suit against Gov. Larry Hogan and two staffers over what they say is unconstitutional censorship of comments on his Facebook page.
The ACLU first raised issue with Hogan's Facebook page in February. They contacted the governor on behalf of seven people who had been blocked from his page and urged the administration to stop blocking users and review all the other users blocked during Hogan's time in office. A number of those blocks coincided with criticism of President Donald Trump's travel ban. A number of Facebook users at the time, urged Hogan to speak out against it.
This suit is on behalf of four users blocked by Hogan's Facebook page.
"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, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland, said in a statement. "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."


Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse called the lawsuit "frivolous" and a waste of taxpayer money driven by politics.
“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," she said in an email. "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.”
The ACLU says all four plaintiffs aimed to respectfully express viewpoints, but found themselves blocked in a way they felt was targeted at their views. They didn't know each other before filing the suit. Their views included comments supporting Syrian refugees and urging Hogan to take a stance on the travel ban.
One of the ACLU clients, Meredith Phillips, says she's a Democrat who voted for Hogan.
"I posted a comment to the Governor's official Facebook page about the Muslim ban, asking him to make a public statement. My comment was deleted and I was blocked from the page," she said in an ACLU statement. "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."
The suit comes a day after a similar federal suit by the ACLU of Kentucky against Gov. Matt Bevin, and a week after a warning sent to Maine Gov. Paul LePage.
The Kentucky suit was filed on behalf of  two Kentucky residents who were blocked by Bevin on Facebook and Twitter. The ACLU says more than 600 people have been blocked from seeing the Bevin's postings.
A separate suit filed last month with backing from the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University claims Trump's blocking of Twitter users essentially bars people from a public forum where policy announcements are often made.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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