The Sun’s Free Speech Hypocrisy
The Sun’s Erin Cox reported on Sunday that as protesters gathered at BWI-Thurgood Marshall International Airport to protest President Trump’s order the week before, Mr. Hogan’s Facebook page (to be clear: not a campaign page or Change Maryland page but the one he links to from the official website of the governor’s office) was deluged with comments urging him to publicly join the opposition. Staff members in the governor’s office (again, not campaign workers but public employees paid by tax dollars) deemed the comments as spam and deleted them. Moreover, people who sent the comments found themselves banned from further posting on the governor’s page.
In an interview Monday, Hogan Communications Director Douglass Mayer said the office’s general practice is not to erase comments critical of the governor, but he defended the action as necessary to maintain a positive experience for the page’s nearly 150,000 followers. It’s not the first time this has happened; Mr. Mayer says the governor’s office deleted comments from what he describes as a coordinated campaign by “anarchists” after the 2015 Baltimore unrest. In the current instance, the governor’s office was not the one seeking to stifle conversation, he said, but it was the “coordinated effort to overrun the governor’s page” that was limiting debate. “We encourage an open, diverse public debate on the page, but when a clear, coordinated effort is occurring that we believe seeks to change that debate by pointing it in one direction, we’re not going to allow it,” he said.
Excuse us, but isn’t a “coordinated campaign” to influence the state’s chief executive precisely the same thing, to borrow a phrase from the First Amendment, as “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”? If Governor Hogan held a town hall meeting and a large number of people showed up in a coordinated effort to persuade him to take a particular position on a valid issue of public concern, would he kick them out, strike their participation from the record and ban them from speaking out in the future? That’s the equivalent of what’s going on here.
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Now the Sun tries to defend their outrage by attempting to explain their own policy on this:
The Sun’s policy for its Facebook pages, for example, is to take down comments that violate its terms of service, which focus on abusive and/or offensive language. Commenters are occasionally banned for repeated violations of those terms.
Except there’s one actual problem with the the Sun’s description of their policy: it’s not what the policy actually says. What does it say?
That’s the official policy from the Sun’s parent company, the ridiculously named tronc. So the Sun’s corporate policy, as spelled out on it’s very own website, gives it the sole discretion to “move, remove, block, edit, or refuse any User Content for any reason.” That policy is far more reaching and able to squelch free speech than the Doug Mayer laid out.
Now concerns about deleting Facebook comments on an “official” government page is somewhat understandable. However the Sun’s blatant hypocrisy on the issue at a time in which journalists are trying to pretend that they are “above it all” and doing a “public service” makes their quest to be taken seriously as an organ of free speech somewhat of a farce. That the comment policy on Governor Hogan’s Facebook is more open to free speech than the restrictive Baltimore Sun terms of service speaks volumes about just how far the Sun will go to pain the Governor in a bad light and how indifferent they are to the censorship going on in their very own company.