A lawsuit filed by four Facebook users against Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) was settled for $65,000 on Monday. Both sides are claiming victory.
Maryland's ACLU represented the plaintiffs, who claim their First Amendment rights were violated after being blocked from the governor's official Facebook page for raising opposing policy questions. The governor's office denied any wrongdoing, and insisted that the only times people were blocked or posts were deleted from the page involved instances of spam or offensive comments.
With 163,000 current followers on the governor's page, roughly 450 people were blocked over a two-year span from 2015-2017.
One of the plaintiffs, Janice Lepore said, "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 opinions...I hope this settlement will promote greater access and engagement for all Maryland citizens."
As part of the agreement, the governor's page will now follow a social media protocol that includes an appeal process for anyone who believes their comments are unfairly deleted in the future. Hogan's Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube accounts will also be regulated under the plan.
Deborah Jeon, legal director of the ACLU of Maryland, said, "We are excited to see Maryland in the forefront of protecting speech rights in this context with this model social-media policy. It definitely holds the governor accountable to the First Amendment that previously there was no check on what happened on the Facebook page."
The governor's office defended the settlement after it was announced, with spokeswoman Shareese Churchill saying, "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."
Hogan has used his page for political posts, and also to share updates on his battle with cancer over the past few years. The governor did not openly endorse President Trump during the 2016 election, but received criticism on social media for not speaking out against the president's travel ban in early 2017.
According to one blocked constituent, her comment on the topic got her blocked from the governor's page last year. Gretchen Weigel Doughty told The Washington Post, "All I did was ask my governor to speak out, and I was blacklisted. I said, 'I'm an independent, and you're going to lose my vote if you don't speak out on this issue.'"