The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine is asking Gov. Paul LePage to end his practice of selectively deleting negative comments and blocking certain users from his official Facebook page.
In a letter to the governor, the group asserts that this amounts to censorship, and the ACLU has not ruled out a lawsuit if LePage does not comply.
The ACLU says it’s aware of at least three people who used the Facebook page to criticize the governor for misleading several Maine lawmakers and the media about his vacation plans during the recent state government shutdown. Their posts were deleted, and they were blocked from further comments.
Zach Heiden, the ACLU’s legal director, says that’s a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and part of the Maine Constitution that guarantees the right to free expression.
“The First Amendment protects people against government censorship. So because this was the official Facebook page of the governor of Maine, the First Amendment and the Maine Constitution apply and protect people against being censored,” he says.
In an email, a spokesman for the governor said the Facebook page is not managed by the Office of the Governor. But then he directed reporters to check the very same page for a response.
It’s not clear who wrote it, but a post states that the page is LePage’s “official politician page,” not a government page managed by taxpayer-funded state employees. It goes on to say that the page is “for those who support the job creating, budget fixing and pro-liberty efforts of Gov. Paul LePage. This page is not a tool for organized, nationally-connected political protests against the governor,” it says.
But Heiden says even the governor’s own official website links to the page, which often includes posts written in the first person.
“We think this is the governor’s official page because he’s opened it up to people to comment to him as constituents and he’s used it to communicate to constituents. He says that he uses Facebook and goes to Facebook Live as a way of bypassing the media,” he says.
The ACLU of Maine is giving the governor two weeks to agree to stop censoring certain views from the page and to reinstate the posting privileges of the three constituents, or Heiden says his group will take further legal action.
Censorship on government social media sites is a new issue, but Heiden says courts in other states have concluded that constituent speech is protected.