Gun owners in Vermont felt betrayed earlier this year when supposedly pro-gun Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed a raft of anti-gun measures designed to restrict Second Amendment rights in the Green Mountain State.
Some of those gun owners took to Scott’s Facebook page to voice their displeasure, where, according to the Vermont ACLU, they were promptly blocked. Now the ACLU has asked Gov. Scott’s office to stop deleting Facebook comments that criticize the governor’s anti-gun stance.
“We have been contacted by multiple Vermonters whose posts have been deleted and who have been blocked from your page in recent weeks, apparently because they were critical of your support for gun control legislation,” Jay Diaz, an ACLU of Vermont Staff Attorney, said in a letter on Wednesday. “As a growing number of federal courts have recognized, these practices are unconstitutional.”
Diaz explained that deleting comments and permanently blocking Facebook users is a form of viewpoint-based censorship that violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 13 of the Vermont Constitution. He also argued that the policies regulating Gov. Scott’s page use “vague terminology that confers overly broad discretion to your office and are thus impermissible under our federal and state constitutions.”
Vermont resident Jeremy McClure frequents Gov. Scott’s Facebook page, and he’s seen first-hand how the governor’s office deletes critical comments.
“Comments that I know that were deleted were comments that stated facts outside of [Gov. Scott’s] policy change,” McClure told GunsAmerica via email. “His staff tends to leave the ignorant and vulgar comments like people calling him names and a traitor but delete the ones that would make the public question why exactly he adopted this policy. Comments that talk about violating the Vermont constitution, or ones about law enforcement saying they aren’t enforceable laws also magically disappear.”
“They delete the comments trying to suppress the fact that many people, on both sides of the aisle are very unhappy with him. What’s going on is image manipulation at its finest,” McClure concluded.
Governor Scott’s Communications Director Rebecca Kelley responded on Wednesday with a statement of her own.
She argues that it is “necessary and Constitutionally permissible to have a social media policy that encourages a civil dialogue and protects commenters from being abused, harassed or exposed to hate speech.”
“Comments are only deleted when they are abusive, obscene or hateful and users are only blocked when they display a pattern of this behavior,” she continues. “Even a cursory review of the comments on the Governor’s Facebook page makes clear that dissenting, critical and even insulting comments towards the Governor are left on the page.”
Governor Scott’s office would do well to take the ACLU’s letter seriously. They’ve already sued governors in Maine, Maryland and Kentucky for similarly blocking constituents on Facebook. A federal court in New York also ruled last month that President Donald Trump violated the First Amendment when he blocked critics on Twitter.