Augusta – The ACLU of Maine today sent a letter to Gov. Paul LePage concerning his practice of deleting comments and permanently blocking individuals from accessing or commenting on his official verified Facebook page. The letter asserts that this practice constitutes censorship, violates the free speech guarantees of the Constitution, and ignores Maine’s social media policy for state business. The ACLU is demanding that Gov. LePage immediately cease the selective deletion of comments posted by constituents and reinstate commenting privileges to all those individuals who have been improperly blocked.
“The governor doesn’t get to decide who speaks and who doesn’t, based on whether they are praising him or disagreeing with him,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine. “The First Amendment protects the right of all people to express their opinions to the government. Social media may be a relatively new forum for public speech, but the Constitution still applies.”
Because social media has become a popular forum for people to share information and opinions, courts have “repeatedly affirmed the First Amendment significance of social media, holding that speech utilizing Facebook is subject to the same First Amendment protections as any other speech.” Davison v. Loudoun Cty. Bd. of Supervisors, 227 F. Supp. 3d 605, 611 (E.D. Va. 2017).
The ACLU letter notes that Karin Leuthy, Kelli Whitlock Burton and Susan Lajoie all had their comments deleted and their ability to comment blocked after they asked the governor about his self-proclaimed practice of spreading falsehoods through the media in connection with the government shutdown in July 2017, among other things.
The ACLU has given Gov. LePage two weeks to respond to their demand.
The full text of the ACLU’s letter can be found here: https://www.aclumaine.org/sites/default/files/facebook_censorship_07242017.pdf