Hogan sued for deleting comments and blocking Facebook users from page

WASHINGTON — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is being sued for deleting comments and blocking critics on his Facebook page.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland filed the federal suit, which accuses the governor of violating the First Amendment rights of constituents who were blocked from the comment section of the governor’s Facebook page.

The suit was filed on behalf of four constituents whose comments were deleted from Hogan’s page (and who don’t know one another, according to the suit). It seeks a permanent injunction against the governor’s Facebook policy.

The ACLU first complained to the Hogan administration in February when seven Facebook users were blocked from the governor’s page.

The lawsuit isn’t breaking new legal ground, said Lisa Zycherman of Davis Wright Tremaine, which is helping represent the plaintiffs.

“The Supreme Court has long ruled that this sort of viewpoint discrimination in a public forum by a government official is a violation of the First Amendment,” Zycherman said.

It’s not clear, she said, just how many Facebook users have been blocked from the governor’s page.

“We can say that the governor and his staff have blocked or deleted the comments of scores of Marylanders, maybe hundreds,” Zycherman said.

Zycherman also cited a ruling by a federal judge, which found that the chair of the Loudoun County board of supervisors violated the First Amendment rights of a man she blocked from her personal Facebook page. The judge in that case said Phyllis Randall was still subject to the ruling because she used the Facebook page to engage with constituents.

Randall lifted her Facebook ban of the plaintiff within hours after the ruling.

In Hogan’s case, Zycherman said, “this is the governor’s official Facebook page and one that he and his staff have always touted as being a major vehicle for him to engage with and communicate with his constituents.”

WTOP contacted Hogan’s office for comment, and Amelia Chasse, deputy director of communications, said in an emailed statement:

“This frivolous lawsuit is completely without merit, a waste of taxpayer dollars, and has more to do with partisan politics than anything else. 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.

“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 suit claims that plaintiff comments in question were not coordinated and ranged “from trying to draw the governor’s attention to the Syrian refugee crisis, to asking him to take a public position on the Trump administration’s Muslim ban, to speaking out about Maryland and federal education policy.”

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