The Maine Wire has obtained a new letter Maine Sen. Angus King is sending to constituents to explain why he conspired with social media companies to censor his political critics in 2018. Although King claims that his collaboration with Facebook and Twitter were aimed at fighting “misinformation,” the letter is itself misleading.
Further, CNN footage unearthed by the Maine Wire shows King making the exact claim that he now says was “misinformation” spread by his 2018 opponent, State Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin).
King’s censorship push came to light last month when Twitter Files journalist Matt Taibbi revealed records that showed the King’s campaign sent an enemies list to Twitter and Facebook. The list included hundreds of social media users, many of whom were subsequently banned permanently from the platforms.
In the following weeks, King has struggled to come up with a coherent explanation for what his campaign did. King’s communications director initially sought to downplay the apparent censorship by telling Maine newspapers that the list included both conservatives and liberals, and that Twitter asked for the list, and that censorship was never the “express” purpose of the blacklist, which tracked when a user was censored.
King has never explained why the list includes Facebook users if the list only came into being because Twitter asked for it. Likewise, King has never reconciled his claim that the aim was never censorship with the documents themselves, which show that King operatives tracked whether social media users were, in fact, censored.
In the new letter, King offers yet another explanation for the conduct exposed by Taibbi.
The conspiracy to censor social media users began, King says, because of the video the Brakey campaign was circulating came with commentary that “created a false impression.”
The video in question shows King comparing alleged 2016 Russian hacking to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. But King claimed then, and claims now, that that’s not at all what he’s talking about.
“In 2018, my digital campaign team spotted a video being shared online that had been edited in such a way which, when presented with accompanying commentary, created a false impression of what I was discussing in a public meeting,” King wrote.
King has never offered an alternative explanation for what he was talking about in the video. Instead, King’s operatives have misleadingly referred to the video in question as “doctored.” But now King seems to have abandoned that false claim, instead pointing to “accompanying commentary.”
Now, the Maine Wire has uncovered CNN archive footage that shows King making the exact same comparison he now says is misinformation.
Readers can watch Brakey’s video and the CNN footage and decided for themselves who is spreading misinformation.
Comparing 9-11 to 2016 was clearly part of King’s rhetorical tool kit in 2017 and 2018. But when his campaign saw Brakey was making hay of the claim, King operatives took the extraordinary step of asking social media companies to engage in censorship on their behalf. King is now using the video he has falsely claimed is misinformation as the justification for the broader censorship conspiracy he engaged in.
Nothing King or his operatives have said about the Twitter Files disclosures stands up to even basic scrutiny.
More from the constituent letter: “The campaign staff reached out to Twitter’s content moderation team—as anyone else with such concerns can do—and asked them to inspect the posting and review it according to their policies, commonly referred to as Terms of Service, which are the rules that all users agree to abide by when they create their Twitter accounts.” (emphasis added)
King makes it seem as though his campaign filed a complaint within Twitter’s automated content moderation system, which any user can do. But that’s misleading. In reality, King’s campaign had access to high-level Twitter employees who prioritized King’s complaints — perhaps because King is a member of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee.
Average Mainers, including Brakey, would have found it impossible to get this kind of access to Twitter. King’s implication otherwise is outrageously false. King’s campaign manager was just a phone call away from Yoel Roth, the former Head of Trust & Safety at Twitter, one of the most powerful employees at the company. The Mainers who wound up kicked off of Twitter because of King’s blacklist would never in a million years have that kind of access.
Tellingly, Facebook isn’t even mentioned in the letter, nor have King’s operatives publicly acknowledged that the censorship campaign included not one, but two major social media companies. From the beginning, King’s campaign has made it seem like the blacklist was really Twitter’s idea, that they drew it up upon request. That’s simply false. The title of the file sent to Twitter is “Sus FB Accounts,” which shows King’s campaign already had the blacklist before the phone call and email with Twitter.
The facts simply don’t support King’s ongoing claim that the list only came into existence because of a request from Twitter. But King’s misleading explanations take advantage of voters’ lack of familiarity with social media and the Twitter Files, as well as the media curious incuriosity concerning the revelation that Maine’s junior senator conscripted social media companies into an elaborate censorship operation in order to keep his political power. Maine’s media has utterly disgraced itself by brushing off what in any normal media environment is massive, career-ending scandal.
Here’s the last whopper from King: “At the time of submitting this list, my campaign made it clear that we did not want to infringe on anyone’s free speech but simply asked Twitter to determine whether the postings in question violated their policies.”
However, the records Taibbi disclosed suggest King wasn’t interested in determining whether a specific post adhered to Twitter’s policies. The list they sent to Twitter didn’t flag individual postings or claims. The list flagged accounts. King’s statement in the letter is false on its face. And, like the rest of the statement, it elides over the fact that the campaign was also submitted the enemies list to Facebook. Again — the list was titled “Sus Facebook Accounts,” a fact King has never explained.
The Maine Wire emailed King communications director Matthew Felling and King campaign manager Toby McGrath to see if they have proof of this claim. McGrath, the operative who had the phone call with Twitter, hasn’t commented.
Felling provided the Maine Wire with a written statement that he previously provided to Fox News two weeks ago, but no further comment. The statement given to Fox mirrors much of the misleading language contained in the constituent letter.
“At no point did the campaign digital team ask for any action to be taken,” Felling said in the statement.
King has yet to renounce the censorship tactics he used in the 2018 campaign; nor has he said whether he would deploy similar tactics should he run again in 2024. So, as an educational example, if you want to see what actual misinformation looks like — as opposed to a real video that King simply finds inconvenient — here’s some misinformation created by The Maine Wire.
Here’s the full text of the letter King is sending to constituents:
Thank you for contacting me about steps my 2018 campaign took to address online disinformation. I appreciate the opportunity to walk through what actually happened and provide greater context to clear up any misunderstanding as to the actions and intent of my campaign in connection with this matter.
In 2018, my digital campaign team spotted a video being shared online that had been edited in such a way which, when presented with accompanying commentary, created a false impression of what I was discussing in a public meeting. The campaign staff reached out to Twitter’s content moderation team—as anyone else with such concerns can do—and asked them to inspect the posting and review it according to their policies, commonly referred to as Terms of Service, which are the rules that all users agree to abide by when they create their Twitter accounts. In response, Twitter’s team said they would give the video a look and also invited the campaign to share other content that had raised similar concerns.
Campaign staff subsequently provided a list of accounts across the political spectrum that were sharing misinformation or appeared to be of suspicious origin, may have violated Twitter’s rules, or appeared to be located outside of the country. The final decision as to what to do with these accounts was up to Twitter, based upon their own policies.
At the time of submitting this list, my campaign made it clear that we did not want to infringe on anyone’s free speech but simply asked Twitter to determine whether the postings in question violated their policies.
I understand that this is a difficult issue; neither I nor anyone else wants to see social media platforms become the “truth police” and thereby stifle open and vigorous debate. On the other hand, modern technology now makes it possible to create content which looks real but is demonstrably false. It has long been the practice that T.V. stations, for example, give broad latitude to political advertising but do, on occasion, refuse to run ads that are clearly false or misleading. So it is with social media as they try to navigate this question.
I want to be clear: I welcome a vigorous campaign, but it needs to be centered on the debate of real, not made up, issues. There’s an old saying that “a lie can make its way around the world before the truth can get is boots on.” In the Internet age, that’s accelerated greatly and all of us are still trying to navigate this new reality. In the marketplace of ideas, we must always be wary of counterfeit goods.
ANGUS S. KING, JR.
United States Senator