LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A lawsuit challenging former Gov. Matt Bevin’s practice of blocking some people on Twitter and Facebook has been settled with the current governor, who has committed to allowing “robust” discourse on the governor’s official social media accounts.
The settlement with Bevin’s successor, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, represents a victory for the First Amendment rights of Kentuckians, said Corey Shapiro, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.
The ACLU said it reached the settlement with Beshear’s office. Beshear defeated Bevin, a Republican, in last year’s election.
The agreement resolved the lawsuit’s major claims through adoption of a new social media policy allowing for “vigorous and robust” discourse on the governor’s official social media platforms, the ACLU said.
“The agreement enables social media users to share feedback with the governor’s office without worrying their comment will be deleted or that they will be permanently banned or blocked from accessing information from these important information channels,” Shapiro said.
Beshear spokeswoman Crystal Staley said his administration is “committed to transparent and open government and accepting of both supportive and critical voices on social media.”
“This policy provides clear guidelines for when content can be removed, hidden or reported to the respective platforms for possible violations of their policies,” she said in a statement.
Besides setting rules for users, the policy includes language that people are notified when blocked for posting prohibited content to the social media pages, the ACLU said.
Political leaders have turned increasingly to social media to communicate directly with constituents in recent years, and responses often reflect the deep political divisions currently animating the American political landscape.
The ACLU said thousands of people were “silenced” when Bevin blocked them from making “constitutionally protected comments” on his official social media accounts while he was governor.
Bevin’s office maintained the action didn’t violate free speech rights but was done when users posted obscene or abusive language or images or made off-topic comments.
Under the new social media policy, the governor’s office will strive at all times to “uphold users’ right to freedom of speech.” However, the governor’s office may temporarily restrict access to the governor’s official social media platforms for violating policy rules.
It allows the governor’s office to hide or delete comments that are deemed threatening, harassing or sexual; promote commercial products or contain private information. People can be restricted from those social media platforms for up to six months for comments containing prohibited content.
The governor’s office would have to provide them with written notice, including guidance for navigating a process to get social media accounts unblocked. The policy includes an appeals process for people restricted from accessing the accounts.
Future governors could choose to retain the policy, update it or abolish it, the ACLU acknowledged.
“We would certainly hope that if they did change it, they would do so in the spirit of this robust policy and of course we hope that no administration would abandon the principles established here,” said ACLU of Kentucky spokeswoman Amber Duke.
The original lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Kentucky in July 2017. The settlement agreement was reached in July, and the parties jointly dismissed the case Thursday, the ACLU said.