Vermont governor unblocks Facebook users, revises social media plan

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Republican Gov. Phil Scott said on Thursday that his administration is changing its social media policy for Facebook after the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called its practice of blocking users and deleting comments a violation of the First Amendment.

Scott said all previously banned users have been unblocked and his administration is writing a new social media policy that addresses the ACLU of Vermont’s concerns. Last month, the ACLU of Vermont sent Scott a letter that said blocking a constituent is unlawful prior restraint of future speech and deleting posts amounts to “viewpoint-based censorship” in violation of the First Amendment.

Scott said his administration “took what the ACLU has suggested.”

“We’re starting over from scratch with a policy we feel is more in line with what the ACLU would like,” he said.

Scott spokeswoman Rebecca Kelley added that the administration will not be manually deleting comments or blocking users while crafting the new policy although it will still use a Facebook filter that automatically deletes comments with profanity.

The social media policy posted on Scott’s Facebook page previously stated it may delete comments and block users who “use profane, vulgar or violent language” or are “disrespectful, hostile or abusive to other users or groups.”

“What we took back from the ACLU was that our policy could be more specific in the language,” Kelley said.

ACLU of Vermont staff attorney Jay Diaz said his organization had been in contact with the Scott administration.

“The ACLU of Vermont is encouraged by and grateful for this positive step and hope the forthcoming social media policy is also in line with the First Amendment requirements, as we requested in our letter to the governor,” Diaz said.

ACLU chapters in Maine, Maryland and Kentucky have sued the governors of those states for similarly blocking constituents on Facebook. Scott said his administration wants to avoid any lawsuit if it can but also wants to encourage discussion and respect First Amendment rights.

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