‘Sweep out the trash’: Bevin blocks thousands on social media and records now detail why

An ongoing federal lawsuit over Gov. Matt Bevin’s habit of blocking people on Twitter and Facebook shows the Republican leader has persisted in barring users from accessing his official accounts.

Newly released court records say the number of accounts prohibited from readily viewing Bevin’s social media has ballooned from about 600 to nearly 3,000 different users since the Courier Journal reported on his penchant for blocking two years ago.

Bevin would also occasionally order his staff to block people, including one woman for posting unspecified comments on his Facebook pages in early 2018.

“There is a limit on idiocy and she has surpassed it,” he said in a message that was included among recently filed court documents.

On another occasion, Bevin instructed staffers to block someone he accused of “trolling every single post for the past week plus to post unrelated crap,” and in November 2017 he made a broader request for them to “sweep out the trash” on Facebook.

The records also give Kentuckians a window into how and why Bevin’s team decides to block certain users.

Bevin, who often uses social media to speak directly to Kentuckians, has banned people from viewing his official social media pages for everything from off-topic comments to offensive emojis, according to the documents.

Among the words that administration officials would flag are: booger, carpetbagger, dictator, nimrod, tax returns, Trump, uterus, cervix, menstruation and womb.

The ACLU of Kentucky took Bevin to federal court in July 2017 on behalf of two residents, Mary Hargis of Morehead and Drew Morgan of Louisville, who were blocked from the governor’s official social media pages.

The plaintiffs in the case said they have received nearly 1,700 pages of screenshots of blocked users that the court ordered Bevin to produce and found a disparity in the kinds of viewpoints that were suppressed.

ACLU attorneys said in the court filings that a careful review showed that nearly 90% of the messages were critical of the governor, while, at most, 1% were supportive.

In January 2018, for instance, Bevin spokesman Woody Maglinger sent some colleagues a message saying, “Hey, gang — negative comments seem to be really picking up on social media this afternoon. All help blocking these jokers 😉 (when appropriate) much appreciated.”

Six months prior, Maglinger ignored the Courier Journal’s questions regarding who has access to Bevin’s accounts and whether the governor or his staff are the ones who determine if a post is obscene or decide to block someone.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

In court documents filed this week, attorneys for the governor wrote that social media allows him to communicate his message directly to the people, but some folks online try to disrupt that flow of information.

“It is time to put an end to this case, which is really nothing more than an attempt to wrest control over the Governor’s social media accounts away from the Governor and give it to those who desire to exercise a heckler’s veto by drowning out the Governor’s messages with a cacophony of obscene, abusive, or otherwise off-topic comments,” Bevin’s attorneys wrote.

In their ongoing case against Bevin, the plaintiffs have criticized his social media policy for being “so vague that it gives state actors a blank check to ban users for any conceivable reason.”

The ACLU asserts their clients’ comments weren’t obscene, abusive or defamatory, and claims that Bevin blocking them violated their First Amendment rights. The governor’s office has defended blocking users for posting abusive, vulgar or off-topic comments based on their social media policy.

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