Hogan, ACLU reach settlement on social media protocol

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and state Board of Public Works have agreed to a settlement on how Gov. Larry Hogan can use social media after the civil rights group sued the governor’s office to argue Hogan had suppressed free speech by deleting Facebook posts that disagreed with his views.

Under new guidelines that cover all of the governor’s accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube, Hogan’s office must permit commentary of all kinds, create a “Constituent Message Page” on Facebook for voters to contact Hogan about any governmental concerns and develop a process for anyone to challenge restricted access.

The ACLU of Maryland filed the suit in August 2017 on behalf of four individuals who said they were wrongfully banned or blocked from one of the governor’s social media accounts.

During its March 28 hearing, the Board of Public Works approved a payment of $65,000 to cover “full settlement of all claims, including attorneys’ fees and costs.”

One of the plaintiffs, Janice Lepore, released this statement through the ACLU of Maryland after the settlement was reached: “I originally joined the Governor’s Facebook page so I could learn about his positions about education issues, and when it became clear that the Governor’s positions differ from my own, I engaged in conversation. It never occurred to me that the Governor, or his staff, would seek to prohibit me from engaging in conversations in a public forum, simply because my opinions differ from their positions. Nor did it ever occur to me that when these prohibitions became public, the Governor and his staff would malign those of us who had been silenced. I hope this settlement will promote greater access and engagement for all Maryland citizens.”

In a statement, Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland, touted the settlement as a victory for free speech.

“Across the country over the last year, the importance of social media to political discourse by elected officials and their constituents has been recognized with rulings from the Supreme Court and other courts, and we are excited to see Maryland in the forefront of protecting speech rights in this context with this model social media policy.”

A spokesperson for Hogan’s office, Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill, released the following statement: “We are pleased that the ACLU has decided to drop this frivolous and politically motivated lawsuit and reach a settlement with the state. Ultimately, it was much better for Maryland taxpayers to resolve this, than to continue wasting everyone’s time and resources in court.”

At the time the suit was filed, another spokesperson for Hogan, Amelia Chasse, called the lawsuit “frivolous” and “completely without merit” in a statement and said the policy of the governor’s office is to remove comments if they were violent or profane or appear to be “a standardized letter or petition” or a “coordinated effort.”

A similar lawsuit over President Donald Trump’s use of the block button on Twitter is working its way through federal courts.

Meredith Curtis, a spokesperson for ACLU of Maryland, says the “Constituent Message Page” will appear at facebook.com/mdgov. Hogan’s office has five days to make it live.

This post has been updated.

Brandon Weigel

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