The State of Maryland reached a settlement in a lawsuit that alleged censorship in the comments on Gov. Larry Hogan’s Facebook page.
The suit was filed in August by four users who said they were blocked from the governor’s page and had critical comments deleted. As part of the settlement, the state agreed to pay $65,000.
About a year ago, a half-dozen blocked users were reinstated after the American Civil Liberties Union began calling attention to potential implications for free speech.
Over the summer, the ACLU took up the lawsuit that was recently settled with two other attorneys on behalf of four users who said they were blocked. One of the plaintiffs, Janice Lepore, said she initially went to the page to learn about Hogan’s views on education issues, and started commenting when she disagreed.
“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,” she said in a statement.
As part of the settlement, the state continues to deny and all liability for the claims brought forth in the lawsuit. Shareese Churchill, a spokesperson for Hogan, said the lawsuit was “frivolous and politically motivated.”
“Ultimately, it was much better for Maryland taxpayers to resolve this, than to continue wasting everyone’s time and resources in court,” Churchill said.
The settlement also contains an agreement to abide by the state’s social media policy, which states that the governor cannot discriminate based on viewpoint.
The policy also calls for a second gubernatorial Facebook page where constituents can post messages, and a process for blocked users to appeal.
ACLU of Maryland Legal Director Deborah Jeon said the state is at “the forefront of protecting speech rights in this context with this model social media policy.”
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