ACLU and Maryland reach settlement over Hogan Facebook Censorship

Governor Larry Hogan has found himself at the center of a first-amendment argument. The Maryland governor recently settled for $65,000 out of court for allegedly deleting comments off his Facebook page.

The settlement roots back to August 2017, when four Marylanders posted conflicting views on one of Hogan’s Facebook posts. They claimed that Gov. Hogan not only deleted their comments, but also blocked them on his Facebook page. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took against Gov. Hogan for hindering their first-amendment, which prohibits a governors and other government officials from demonstrating prejudice based on opposing stances. Throughout the case, the Marylanders received pro-bono guidance and support from a law firm.

Molly Handley, who now resides in Seattle, Washington, is one of the accusers. She claims that she asked a question on one of Hogan’s Facebook posts and then soon noticed it was deleted. Gov. Hogan responded to the alligation by claiming that deleting Handley’s question and other comments on his public account were appropriate.

Similarly, Meredith Phillips found a comment on hers deleted from Hogan’s page. Phillips, who says she voted for Hogan, commented on one of Hogan’s posts requesting that the governor comment on the Muslim ban. Shortly after she made the post, she found noticed that she was blocked from Hogan’s page and her comment was deleted. Phillips stated her first-amendment rights were violated because she didn’t applaud the governor.

The settlement sparked change for Gov. Hogan and his social media policies. Prior to the settlement, the policy allowed for Gov. Hogan and his staff to remove comments when they founded necessary or appropriate. However, as part of the settlement, Gov. Hogan will now have to develop a message page that will purposely welcome all viewpoints. Still, those removed from the Facebook page will have to write a letter to the Office of Correspondence & Constituent Services voicing their reasoning to be added back to a public account.

Although this lawsuit started with just four Marylanders, over 400 residents have since stepped forward and claimed that their first-amendment rights have also been violated. The question regarding government officials and their freedom to censor their social-media accounts is one that has been heavily debated on a national level.

ACLU has been fighting to stop government officials, both Republican and Democrat,  from censoring those who oppose them on social media for years. Similarly, to the Gov. Hogan case, ACLU has previous fought against Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar for blocking a woman on his Facebook page. President Trump has also found himself at the center of the debate.

The Knight First Amendment Institute has previously sued Donald Trump, his director of social media, and his press secretary for blocking users on Twitter. The institute demanded that all those who have been blocked by the president’s account be unblocked on the basis that blocking them violated their first amendment rights. When the debate was taken to a federal court, the court sided with The Knight First Amendment Institute and ruled that government officials who block users on their social media accounts are indeed infringing on one’s  first amendment.The continued debate demonstrates the trials of free speech in a digital age.