Is Governor Hogan Willing to Listen?

Governor Hogan has gotten some social media attention recently - and it’s not good. Reports that Hogan and his staff have blocked dissenting Marylanders from his Facebook page are leading some to question his commitment to transparency and open debate.

Governor Hogan’s official Maryland State Facebook page has banned 450 Marylanders in the past 2 years. The Washington Post reported that “the blocked posters include a teacher, business owners and a pastor.... They questioned the governor’s stance on the budget, an appointment and President Trump”. Suzanne Nash of Chevy Chase said she was banned because she asked Hogan to help Artiman Jalali, a 5-year-old Iranian American boy from Bethesda, who was detained for hours at Washington Dulles International Airport without his mother.

Other local politicians report that they block facebook comments only when the content is inappropriate  In a Washington Post article, staff for  Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe reported that they “ occasionally delete comments that are ‘ incendiary’ or contain profanity”, arguing that an important purpose of Facebook is to foster the exchange of many viewpoints.

Mayor Bowser’s office has a policy of blocking Facebook users who are threatening to others or post racist or anti-Semitic comments. Her Facebook site does not delete comments. Mayor Bowser’s official Facebook page has 5 blocked users and her Twitter account has 2 blocked users.

Governor Hogan defended himself saying “We have about a million people a week on our Facebook page and an average of four of them are deleted per week and we’re going to continue the process that we’ve always done and we’re not changing anything.” Hogan  and his staff argue that the number of blocked users is very small, but the tales of constituents who are kicked off Hogan’s page for posting dissenting opinions is eroding confidence in Hogan’s willingness to hear the concerns of Marylanders.

In August,  the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of four individuals who have been censored by Governor Hogan. Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland said “the highest purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the right of Americans to engage in political speech and to petition the government to address their concerns.” In their statement, the ACLU argues that Hogan’s Facebook policies violate both the first amendment and social media guidelines in place in Maryland for government officials. The first amendment includes not only the right to free speech but the right to petition the government - to ask for “redress of grievances”, a right that Governor Hogan may be violating by silencing opposing viewpoints on his Facebook page.