Another U.S. politician brought to court over social media use

August 8, 2017, 12:12pm

The ACLU of Maine is suing the state’s governor, Paul LePage, for allegedly banning two Facebook users from accessing his page and deleting some of their comments on his posts. And the case against LePage isn’t the only one trying to regulate a U.S. public official’s use of social media — lawsuits are also pending against President Trump, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan for taking similar actions on social media.

In the Maine case, which was filed Tuesday, two plaintiffs — Karin Leuthy and Kelli Whitlock Burton — claim they were blocked from commenting on LePage’s page after leaving comments which were subsequently deleted. In the complaint, they allege that neither of their comments were scandalous enough to justify removal — Leuthy says she wrote one accusing the governor of deliberately misleading the press, and one about the governor not answering reporters’ questions. Burton says she commented about constituents being blocked from the page and one about false reports that LePage was on vacation.

The state ACLU office wrote a demand letter on their behalf to the governor’s office on July 24, arguing that deleting posts and blocking people constitutes “censorship” and violates “the free speech guarantees of the Constitution.” Rachel Healy, the ACLU of Maine’s Director of Communications and Public Education, told VICE News that when 14 days ended without a response from the governor Monday, the organization filed a formal complaint.

“Governor LePage’s official Facebook page is a significant source of information and news for the people of Maine, as well as a popular forum for speech by, to, and about the Governor,” the complaint states. “By blocking access to this forum and deleting comments based on the viewpoint of the speaker, Governor LePage has violated plaintiffs’ right to free expression and to petition the government for a redress of wrongs and grievances.”

The LePage Facebook page uploaded a statement the same day the demand letter expired, claiming ”nationally-connected liberal groups are working in tandem to attack this very post. That’s right, they are attacking this very Facebook page with false legal arguments.”

“This page has never been managed by taxpayer-funded state employees. Under the about section of this Facebook page it states that is Paul LePage’s official politician page – not a government page,” the post also claims.

“Social media has quickly become a crucial tool for constituents to express their opinions to public officials,” Meagan Sway, an attorney with the ACLU of Maine, said in a statement. “Free speech must be protected from government censorship on Facebook just as is it in any other public forum.”

The ACLU of Maine has 90 days to serve the governor. Maine’s Attorney General will have to choose whether or not to represent LePage, says Leahy, and if not, LePage will have to seek private counsel. The Office of the Attorney General did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment.