Maine governor sued for blocking Facebook users and deleting comments
Maine Gov. Paul LePage is being sued for deleting comments and blocking users from accessing his official Facebook page.
The Maine chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Republican governor Tuesday, citing First Amendment rights violations, the AP first reported. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of two Maine women, seeks attorney fees, a court declaration stating the governor’s behavior on Facebook violates the women’s freedom of speech and a court order that would prohibit LePage from future blocking of users and deleting of comments. LePage, who told a radio station last month that he enjoys feeding fake stories to the “vile and inaccurate” news media, has remained silent on the lawsuit thus far.
“They’re so bad,” LePage said of journalists during an appearance on local radio station WGAN. “And you know what we found that works? We go Facebook Live and we ignore them and they get even angrier.”
The ACLU’s suit follows complaints filed by the group last month citing at least five instances in which the governor’s office had deleted the comments of critics and blocked access to the governor’s social media page. The group’s legal director, Zach Heiden, said in a statement that the First Amendment guarantees the right of all people to express their opinions.
“The governor doesn’t get to decide who speaks and who doesn’t, based on whether they are praising him or disagreeing with him,” Heiden said in a statement.
The group cites in its complaint a Supreme Court decision in June that calls social media “perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard.”
The group has similar lawsuits against Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. Similarly, the Knight First Amendment Institute is suing President Donald Trump for violating the First Amendment by blocking people on Twitter.
In the past, LePage’s office told the press that the Facebook page was not a government page operated by state employees, but an official politician page belonging solely to the governor. In a post on the Facebook page, LePage called the ACLU’s claims “false legal arguments.”
The ACLU’s complaint states that the governor’s 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. 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.”
While federal rulings in recent cases like Davidson v. Loudoun County would indicate a ruling in the ACLU’s favor against LePage, the same courts have ruled that government social media pages are a “limited public forum” and that social media policies may be enacted and enforced.
LePage’s office was not immediately available to comment for this story.