Maryland Governor Settles Lawsuit Over Deleted Facebook Comments

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has agreed to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU that alleged he violated the constitutional rights of residents by deleting comments and banning users from his social media pages.  This stands in stark contrast to other governors facing such suits from the ACLU, each of whom have opted to dispute the charges on the merits.

Under the terms of the agreement, Governor Hogan will be required to rewrite the social media policies that govern his Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Youtube accounts.  He will also be required to create a second Facebook page that will serve as a public forum for constituents to raise issues for the Governor’s attention.  Finally, the state will pay Plaintiffs $65,000 as part of the agreements.  This payment was subsequently approved by the state’s Board of Public Works.

As to the substance of the new social media policy, the settlement provides that the new policy must bar discrimination based on an individual’s viewpoint, allow commentary on any topic the Governor’s Facebook page has addressed, and create an appeals process for those who have their posts deleted or accounts blocked.  This would be a marked departure from the Governor’s social media policy at the onset of the litigation, which provided that “comments may be removed or access may be restricted at any time without prior notice or without providing justification.”

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if other public officials facing such lawsuits, such as Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, Maine Governor Paul LePage, and President Donald Trump, will agree to change their policies rather than fight the lawsuit in court, as they have opted to do thus far. This blog will provide updates if and when similar settlements are reached.

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