ACLU settles social media case against former governor

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky has settled its lawsuit challenging former Gov. Matt Bevin’s practice of permanently banning or blocking social media users who posted comments his staff deemed “off-topic” or otherwise inappropriate.  

Through its lawsuit, the ACLU-KY and its cooperating counsel Kaplan Johnson Abate & Bird, found thousands of Kentuckians had been silenced for making constitutionally protected comments on the Governor’s Office’s official social media accounts. 

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The settlement with the Office of Governor Andy Beshear addresses the lawsuit’s major claims through the adoption of a new social media policy that will allow for vigorous and robust public discourse on the governor’s official social media platforms consistent with commenters’ First Amendment rights. 

Unlike the previous secret practice, Beshear’s social media policy has rules for users and has provisions to provide notice to individuals who are blocked for posting prohibited content to the pages, according to the ACLU.

The policy also outlines an appeal process for users that want to be reinstated.  

“This settlement represents a great victory for Kentuckians’ First Amendment rights in digital spaces,” said ACLU of Kentucky Legal Director Corey Shapiro. “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.” 

“Governor Beshear’s robust, clear policy is one that other government agencies and officials would do well to model,” said ACLU of Kentucky Staff Attorney Heather Gatnarek. “Electronic communication is at an all-time high during the current health pandemic. It is now more important than ever that people have access to their elected representatives and official government channels online, and that their views can be shared and seen by others.” 

Through the settlement, Beshear’s office also agreed to make its best effort to unblock ACLU-KY clients Drew Morgan and Mary Hargis from any official accounts maintained by the Office of the Governor. 

Gatnarek added, “We are so grateful to Drew and Mary for their tenacity in pursuing this case—they participated in discovery, sat for deposition, and waited years for a resolution, all so that we could fight for Kentuckians’ First Amendment rights.”  

The original lawsuit was filed in July 2017. The settlement agreement was reached in July, and the parties jointly dismissed the case Thursday, August 6, 2020.