Attorney General Andy Beshear issued an opinion on Monday that Gov. Matt Bevin’s office violated the Kentucky Open Records Act by denying the ACLU of Kentucky’s request for the “keywords” his office uses to filter out comments deemed objectionable from its official Facebook page.
In September, the ACLU of Kentucky submitted on open records request to Bevin’s office seeking to know what keywords it used to filter out “profane, obscene, or clearly off-topic comments” from the governor’s Facebook page. Bevin’s attorney denied that request, arguing that public knowledge of the filter details would let people know how to circumvent it, thus making it overrun with offensive comments and requiring more time by staff to monitor them.
The ACLU appealed that denial to the attorney general’s office, which ruled Monday in its favor, arguing that Bevin’s office did not provide clear and convincing evidence that revealing its filter information would create an unreasonable burden for his office.
The opinion is legally binding, unless Bevin’s office decides to appeal it in circuit court.
In July, the ACLU of Kentucky filed a lawsuit against the Bevin administration on behalf of two clients who were blocked by the governor’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts. The administration blocks over 600 accounts on the social media platforms, arguing that it does so when it receives an obscene comment, but the ACLU calls this a violation of its clients’ First Amendment rights, arguing that their comments were not obscene, abusive or defamatory.
Monday’s opinion, written by Beshear and assistant AG Michelle Harrison, asserted that the request for filter details and the separate ACLU lawsuit did not “constitute evidence of an intent to disrupt the essential functions of the Governor’s Office and certainly does not rise to the level of clear and convincing evidence.”
In the ACLU appeal, the governor’s deputy general counsel Matthew Kuhn asserted that their Facebook keyword filter “serves a crucial function: it automatically screens profane, obscene, or clearly off-topic comments, thereby saving the Governor’s Office significant time – literally multiple hours each day.”
Kuhn added that if this filter was undermined by becoming public, Bevin’s Facebook page “would need to be constantly monitored at all times of the day and night, lest it be overrun with profane, obscene, or clearly off-topic comments.”
According to a recent study of the official Twitter and Facebook account of all 50 governors by ProPublica, 1,298 people are blocked from fully accessing these government accounts, with 652 of them — a majority of those throughout the country — being blocked by Gov. Bevin.
Monday morning — an hour before Beshear’s office released the open records appeal opinion — state Rep. Attica Scott of Louisville tweeted that she had just been blocked by Bevin’s official government Twitter account, adding, “I do not care at all for your politics and cannot imagine how the only Black woman in the Kentucky legislature is a threat to you.”
The spokespersons for the ACLU of Kentucky and Gov. Bevin’s office did not reply to emails seeking comment on Beshear’s opinion.
Bevin has emphasized his ability to speak directly to constituents through his social media accounts without the “filter” of the news media, which he has attacked throughout his first term in office.