Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh has a Facebook page. According to Schuh:
“The purpose of this Facebook page is to promote my campaign and candidacy. It is not a public forum. The campaign reserves the right to remove comments, posts and any other content from the page at any time, for any reason.”
Not only does Schuh “reserve the right to remove comments,” he regularly does so by removing my comments, every single one of them, typically within an hour of my posting.
My comments have been critical: I am very concerned about Schuh’s values and judgement. On the other hand, my comments are never vulgar nor threatening.
For example, I have asked Schuh to explain his endorsement of Michael Peroutka during Peroutka’s failed bid for re-election to Anne Arundel County Council. Michael Peroutka was a member of the League of the South for more than ten years. The League of the South is a white supremacy group dedicated to forming an independent Southern nation governed by and for white Christians. Anne Arundel County citizens have a right to know why Schuh would endorse a man who sat on the Board of Directors of this blatantly racist, hateful organization. Evidently, Schuh doesn’t agree with me.
Deleting negative comments appears to be Schuh’s standard practice, with the net result that the comment sections following his posts are bursting with praise for all that Schuh says and does. Looking at Schuh’s Facebook page, you get the impression that everyone likes him.
Schuh’s Democratic opponent for County Executive, Steuart Pittman, also has a Facebook page to promote his campaign. Looking at Pittman’s page, you get the impression that not everyone likes him. Pittman’s supporters and detractors are allowed to leave their comments, both positive and negative, which has spurred debate around key issues affecting Anne Arundel County.
This Spring, the ACLU settled a lawsuit with Governor Hogan, forcing him to cease censorship of people who disagreed with him on social media. Prior to the settlement, Hogan had a practice of either blocking critics from posting or deleting their comments on the Governor’s official Facebook page. The settlement included $65,000 in damages paid to the plaintiffs. The ACLU has also brought suit against a number of other politicians across the country who make it a practice of blocking critics or deleting negative comments on official government social media sites.
The lawsuits filed by the ACLU have revolved around “official” government social media sites. There may be differences in how the law is applied to “campaign” sites. Social media is fairly new, so the courts have yet to fully settle issues of free speech and privacy on social media platforms.
Regardless of whether the law can compel Schuh to stop his practice of deleting negative posts, there is an ethical issue that should concern us all. Steve Schuh is campaigning to represent all of Anne Arundel County, not just those who agree with him. Anyone seeking public office should prove a willingness to consider and address the viewpoints of all constituents. Pittman has demonstrated that he is willing to listen to everyone in this county; Schuh has not. I urge Schuh to stop his practice of censoring comments. I deserve to be heard, and so do you.
Comments? Visit our Facebook Page.