ACLU Sues Maine Governor LePage Over His Facebook Page

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PORTLAND — The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine is taking Governor Paul LePage to federal court.

The reason?

He blocked two residents from accessing his verified Facebook page.

“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 prepared statement Tuesday. “Free speech must be protected from government censorship on Facebook just as it is in any other public forum.”

ACLU attorneys took up the case after Waldoboro resident Kelli Whitlock Burton complained after noticing that a seemingly innocuous question she posed to the governor last month within a thread that began on his page was deleted. Burton, who once worked as a correspondent for the Boston Globe, was later blocked from accessing the governor’s page.

Burton apparently ran afoul of the administrator of the Facebook page by asking the Republican LePage why he had blamed the media for members of his own political party telling reporters his apparent plans to take a vacation following the state Legislature’s inability to pass a budget at the fiscal year deadline, triggering a temporary government shutdown. According to LePage, rumors of his vacation plans were false.

Burton appears as a plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit against LePage, as does Camden resident Karin Leuthy, a freelance writer and editor. Leuthy claims that several of her comments and questions regarding the state’s government shutdown were deleted from the Facebook page as well, and that her access to it was also blocked.

“Neither of Ms. Leuthy’s comments were scandalous, libelous, defamatory, pornographic, off topic, duplicative, obscene or offensive,” the ACLU lawsuit states. “Defendant’s banning of Ms. Leuthy from the ‘Paul LePage, Maine’s Governor’ Facebook page prevents or impedes her from participating in the Governor’s posts and engaging in discussion with Governor LePage and with other constituents.”

Burton’s journey to the blocked-zone apparently began when she questioned LePage directly, underneath the governor’s post wishing residents a happy Independence Day, after she caught wind that other residents had been having their comments deleted.  

The lawsuit, filed after first sending LePage’s office a letter asking him to refrain from deleting Facebook comments, claims LePage’s actions violate freedom of expression, the right to petition, and the right to “freely speak, write and publish sentiments,” among other allegations.

LePage’s office has not yet responded to the lawsuit, but did respond the the ACLU’s July 24 letter. In a response posted to the governor’s Facebook page, LePage’s office questioned the timing of the complaints over the management of his social media account, painting the issue as “yet another attack on Gov. LePage less than a week after stating he may run for office yet again.”

LePage’s camp claimed that “nationally-connected liberal groups” are “attacking this very Facebook page with false legal arguments.”

The page, his office pointed out, was created by volunteers during his initial gubernatorial campaign.

“Let’s be clear,” the post states. “This FB page has always noted it is for those who support the Governor.”

The matter in Maine mirrors similar complaints made by members of the press and others regarding President Donald Trump’s management of his Twitter account. Last month, a group of Twitter users whom Trump blocked from viewing his account filed a lawsuit of their own.

A New York Times report claims that the complaint “raises raises cutting-edge issues about how the Constitution applies to the social media era.”