Gov. Hogan, stop deleting Facebook posts you don’t like
A lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Maryland asks the governor to adopt a clear-cut, constitutional social media policy.
ELECTED OFFICIALS have traditionally used town halls, letters and email correspondence to engage with their constituents. In the age of social media, Facebook and Twitter have emerged as key platforms for political dialogue. Lawmakers increasingly rely on these tools to inform the public of their positions, announce policy changes and gauge constituent opinion. With this in mind, blocking citizens from these forums is akin to denying them access to their representatives.
That, at least, is the argument of four plaintiffs in a new lawsuit against Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and two of his staffers, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. According to the complaint, Mr. Hogan and his aides deleted critical comments from his Facebook page and blocked some commenters from posting on the page. An estimated 450 people — some of whom had previously pressed the governor on his position on education policy and President Trump’s travel ban — have been blocked from the page since 2015.
Mr. Hogan’s office claims that the comments that were removed were either hateful or part of a “coordinated” effort, and that its Facebook policies do not vary greatly from those of other politicians. Neither of those defenses holds much water. While most public figures take down abusive or racist posts, other top elected officials in the region have said that they do not delete comments solely because they are repetitive or stem from specific groups. There is a crucial distinction here: Deleting public comments based on viewpoint reeks of censorship. The case law, which is admittedly in its infancy, seems to agree.
Many organizations, including The Post, curate reader comments, but if they are not part of the government, they do not have the same responsibility to communicate with constituents. Mr. Hogan’s Facebook page is linked to his office and run by government employees. It is both constitutionally and ethically held to a different standard.
The legal framework surrounding free speech rights on online forums is still developing, and with time government officials may have real concerns about how to preserve constructive dialogue on their pages. Some difficult questions may present themselves.
This is not one of them. The ACLU of Maryland simply asks that Mr. Hogan adopt a clear-cut, constitutional social media policy that narrowly defines comments that should be removed. Instead of deleting comments that critique his policy positions, Mr. Hogan should allow them online — and, if he disagrees with them, respond and make his case.