Indiana Governor's Deleted Facebook Comments on Gay Marriage Reveal Legal Issues

Officials potentially could risk running afoul of the law if they remove critical posts from an official Facebook page with too heavy of a hand.
June 28, 2013

Sometimes, what’s civil is in the eye of the beholder — especially on Facebook.

That much became clear Thursday, as Gov. Mike Pence navigated the blowback from his staff’s deletion of hundreds of comments on his official Facebook page. They were responding to the posting Wednesday of a statement expressing his renewed support for putting a constitutional gay marriage ban before Indiana voters.

The episode underlines the difficulty faced by government officials when they set up an outpost on Facebook. Wittingly or not, they take responsibility for a forum in which supporters and detractors alike can sound off — sometimes including insults, name-calling or profanity.

Pence stood firm Thursday, saying his staff viewed the deleted comments as uncivil. And his spokeswoman pointed out many posts critical of the Republican governor’s position remained among the hundreds still visible Thursday morning.

There’s also a legal dimension to the debate. Experts told The Indianapolis Star that, under standards that the courts still are struggling to adapt to digital spaces, officials potentially could risk running afoul of the law if they remove critical posts from an official Facebook page with too heavy of a hand.

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