ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Maryland's governor must be more permissive of social media commenters who disagree with him under a settlement to resolve a lawsuit that accused him of censoring constituents by blocking them on Facebook, the American Civil Liberties Union said Monday.
The settlement includes a $65,000 payment to the four plaintiffs and a revised social media policy for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's social media accounts.
The ACLU lawsuit alleged the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights had been violated when Hogan blocked them from his official Facebook page or deleted their comments.
The lawsuit was one of several filed over the past year against high-profile elected officials across the country, including President Donald Trump, accusing them of blocking constituents on social media.
Hogan's new social media policy states that he "does not discriminate based on viewpoint" but may remove comments for reasons including profanity or threats of violence. The policy governs Hogan's Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube accounts.
Hogan and two aides named as defendants don't admit wrongdoing under the settlement.
"Ultimately, it was much better for Maryland taxpayers to resolve this, than to continue wasting everyone's time and resources in court," Shareese Churchill, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said Monday.
The lawsuit cited a February 2017 Washington Post story that said Hogan and his staff had blocked 450 people from the Facebook page since the time he took office in January 2015.
The governor's office has previously said comments were deleted or people were blocked because of spam or offensive content.
Janice Lepore, one of the plaintiffs in the Maryland lawsuit, said in a statement that she joined the governor's Facebook page to learn about his positions on education issues. When it became clear they disagreed, she said she sought to engage in a social media conversation. She was blocked, according to the lawsuit.
"It never occurred to me that the Governor, or his staff, would seek to prohibit me from engaging in conversations in a public forum, simply because my opinions differ from their positions. ... I hope this settlement will promote greater access and engagement for all Maryland citizens," Lepore said.
The settlement was approved by the state's Board of Public Works, a three-member panel that includes the governor, comptroller and treasurer, and now must be fully implemented within 14 days, according to the ACLU.