U.S. Sen. Angus King’s 2018 campaign targeted journalists and ordinary Mainers for censorship if their posts showed they were critical of the Senator or supported his opponents, Republican State Sen. Eric Brakey and socialist candidate Zak Ringelstein.
King’s office hasn’t commented so far on the revelations, which were first reported Saturday by independent journalist Matt Taibbi.
Taibbi, who is one of a handful of journalists given access to Twitter’s archives following Elon Musk’s acquisition of the company, reported on an Oct. 1, 2018 email in which Twitter employee Kevin Kane mentions a conversation with King’s campaign director.
“I spoke with the Campaign Director for Sen Angus King this morning, who provided a very large list (attached) of 354 suspicious Twitter accounts they have identified,” wrote Kane.
In addition to the Twitter accounts, the associated Excel spreadsheet includes hundreds of Facebook users and dozens of Facebook groups — a modern days enemies list.
That spreadsheet also reveals that King’s campaign was flagging Facebook users in an attempt to have content removed from the social media site that King didn’t like.
King’s push for censorship included hundreds of Twitter and Facebook users, and many of those users were permanently suspended from the platforms after King’s campaign staff flagged them as suspicious.
Facebook users who shared on commented on Brakey’s posts were flagged. According to the spreadsheet, King’s campaign sent this information to Facebook, and sometimes it succeeded in having the content removed.
Canada Free Press, an online news outlet with tens of thousands of followers, had their Facebook account flagged for writing an article about King comparing the 2016 presidential election to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Caleb Hull, who at the time was writing political blogs, also made the enemies list.
King’s campaign didn’t just focus on Brakey and his conservative and libertarian followers.
In the documents, King staffers also flagged any accounts that interacted with Zak Ringelstein, the candidate endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America.
It’s unclear who exactly composed the document Taibbi posted. A spokesman for King declined to say whether the enemies list was prepared by taxpayer-funded staff in his Senate office or campaign staffers.
It’s also unclear what level of expertise the creators of the list had for determining whether a social media account was a bot or a human being.
In one instance, King’s staff flagged a Facebook user for censorship because the individual was a supporter of both Boston and New York sports teams and, according to the file, “No one is a Boston and New York sports fan.”
King’s censorship requests also targeted Facebook groups that spread conservative messages and post, including a group called “Elect Ted Cruz.” Many of those groups appear to have been deleted by Facebook.
King’s push to silence critics appears to have been more effective on Twitter. Dozens of accounts flagged in the document are now permanently suspended from the platform, including @MEGOPRESEARCH (a.k.a. Maine GOP Research), an account a King staffer described as “SO WEIRD.”
King’s team also flagged an account called @CSpanRAW, a joke account that tweets about American politics as if it were professional wrestling.
At least one account was flagged for supporting a hashtag campaign aimed at getting a presidential pardon for Ross Ulbricht, the jailed-for-life founder of the Silk Road.
King’s office didn’t provide a comment to Taibbi.
“If Dick Nixon sniffed glue, this is what his enemies list might have looked like,” Taibbi chirped.
King’s office has refused to respond to multiple inquiries from the Maine Wire.
Here are the questions we asked this morning of King Communications Director Matthew Felling:
- Will Sen. King be commenting on Taibbi’s reporting?
- Who prepared the files tracking pro-Brakey social media accounts?
- Were taxpayer resources spent in the preparation of the enemies list?
- Did Sen. King personally approve this operation?
- How did the Campaign Director get the contact information for high level employees at Facebook and Twitter?
- Who was the Campaign Director mentioned in Kane’s email?
- Did Sen. King use his position on the Intelligence Committee to facilitate communications between his campaign and Twitter content moderators?
- Does Sen. King believe that the power/influence of his office meant his request for content moderation received priority attention?
Maine’s traditional media outlets have been reluctant to cover other aspects of the Twitter Files, and they have also avoided covering the revelations that Maine’s junior senator, a member of the powerful Intelligence Committee, leaned on large social media companies to suppress his opponents’ supporters.
As of Monday morning, the Bangor Daily News, the Portland Press Herald, and Maine Public have all avoided writing about King’s enemies list.
UPDATE: The Bangor Daily News published a story about King’s list Monday afternoon and was able to get a King staffer to comment.
BDN identified the campaign worker who supplied the list to Twitter as Toby McGrath, the former campaign director for King who now works for Drummond Woodsum.
King’s spokesman Matthew Felling told the BDN that the enemies list was sent to Twitter after the campaign reached out over the video it described as “doctored.”
The video was not, in fact, doctored. The video merely contained two separate clips of King comparing alleged Russian hacking around the 2016 election to 9-11.
Referring to footage that reflects poorly of a candidate as “doctored” is a common political tactic, and in this case it appears to have worked on multiple Maine media outlets.
Regardless, King’s official explanation for the push to censor hundreds of Mainers social media accounts is that it began as an effort to censor a video the campaign did not like.
UPDATE #2: Maine Public finally got around to reporting on the story. MPBN mostly follows BDN’s lead in downplaying the accuracy of the video, claiming that the video “attempted” to show King saying something which he quite clearly said on multiple occasions. MPBN also quotes Felling as saying that the video is “doctored” without noting that the video is not, in fact, doctored, as that term would imply it was dishonestly edited to make King say something he did not.
UPDATE #3: Last but not least, the Portland Press Herald has gotten around to the story. PPH does a decent job of pressing King’s office. For example, PPH gets King’s spox to admit that they don’t have the supposed second list which Taibbi is alleged to have omitted from his reporting. PPH also got the rest of Maine’s congressional delegation to say that they do not keep lists of critics, though that cannot be independently verified.