[Ed Note 10/11/2020: After waiting more than 72 hours for a reply to my second "appeal" from Twitter, I've had no choice but to delete the accurate tweet in question, because, after a long weekend without access, simply need to get back on it. Much of my work happens via that social media service right now, unfortunately. See the final UPDATE at bottom of story for a full explanation of why I finally had to relent, and a few thoughts about what it portends moving forward. - BF]
Well, I woke up this morning to find that Twitter had restricted/suspended my account due to what they describe as my having violated the service's "rules against posting misleading information about voting" with a 100% accurate tweet from two weeks ago, which reported on a federal court filing...
Here's a screenshot of the (apparently-still-available?) tweet in question, which they claim to be in violation of their rules, along with the evidence from the federal court filing proving that it's completely accurate...
Unless I delete the tweet, Twitter tells me, I will not be able to use Twitter.
Of course, as a journalist, I work very hard to make certain that my tweets are not only accurate, but independently verifiably so. The tweet is based on an emergency federal court filing [PDF], filed that same evening, in Curling v. Kemp, a long running federal lawsuit in Georgia which I've been reporting on for years, most recently here.
The suit, and its filing from non-partisan plaintiff Coalition For Good Governance seeks to ban the use of the state's new, 100% unverifiable touchscreen voting systems. Last year, in the same lawsuit, the U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg found the state's previous touchscreen systems to be insecure, unverifiable and, therefore, unconstitutional. She banned their use in the state.
The "false" or "misleading" tweet, as Twitter describes it, as cited above, regards the state's new touchscreen voting system, forced on every county in the state by GOP Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger, despite the systems being similarly insecure and unverifiable, according to experts. They are being forced on every voter at every polling place in the state, as the Coalition calls on the state to allow voters to use hand-marked paper ballots instead. (The group is awaiting Judge Totenberg's ruling.)
My tweet is informed by evidence included in the emergency motion filed by the Coalition, after discovering an error acknowledged by the Sec. of State's office in every one of the new touchscreen Ballot Marking Devices. The programming error, as the SOS office now admits, would result in U.S. Senate candidates not showing up on the touchscreens for some voters while they are voting.
In the emergency federal court filing, a screenshot of the notice sent to elections officials in all 159 counties in the state by Chris Harvey of the GA Sec. of State's office, instructs those officials to immediately halt all pre-election testing of the new systems due to "an error in the November database which will require every county to receive a new database for the November 3, 2020 election."
The Coalition's filing had sought an emergency hearing with the judge due to this startling news just 39 days (at the time) before this year's critical election in the battleground state. That hearing was held with all parties on the Monday after my (apparently problematic, yet completely accurate) weekend tweet.
For the record, the defendant in the case, GA's Sec. of State, told Judge Totenberg during the emergency telephonic hearing (transcript here [PDF]) that the state's private voting system vendor, Dominion Voting Systems, had come up with a work around fix that would avoid the need to replace the databases in all 34,000 touchscreen voting systems in all counties in the state. However, the "fix" included installing new uncertified software on all of those systems instead. Voting systems and cybersecurity experts regard such a change at such a late date to be wildly dangerous and ill-considered, especially since the new software being installed has not been certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC.)
Days later, following that emergency Monday hearing, according to a subsequent filing [PDF] from the Coalition, which sought yet another emergency hearing, the plaintiffs said they learned that both the uncertified system software and the databases for every voting system in all 159 counties in Georgia would need to be replaced, just days before Early Voting is to begin in the Peach State.
My tweet, as noted, was 100% accurate when posted and it still is.
This is just one of the reasons why I've never been comfortable with social media outlets banning or removing posts, even when they are posts from Rightwingers that are clearly wrong and dangerous. They probably should be removed. But I don't like the idea of a very powerful private corporation deciding what is true or not, with no independent oversight procedures in place. Especially if they are so easily duped into believing that a tweet featuring well-supported reportage features "misleading" or "false information about voting".
Whether a complaint about this two week old tweet was made by someone in the Georgia SoS office, I couldn't tell you. But, given their duplicitous and dishonest behavior in this case, I wouldn't put it past them at all.
I've appealed the decision, using Twitter's appeal process, rather than delete the tweet. That means, however, that I am apparently blocked from Twitter entirely for at least 12 hours, or however much longer it takes them to review my "appeal" while they contend that the tweet violates their policies.. Their automatic message apologizes for being delayed in their appeals review process. So it could be a while before I can post there --- or even read there! --- at all.
UPDATE 10/8/2020, 7:01pm PT: I just heard back on my "appeal" to Twitter. For the record, they give you just 124 characters (not even 248!) to make that appeal. I told them I'm a journalist, and gave them the link to the federal court filing (had to use an URL shortner!) that includes the email from the Sec. of State's office to all election officials in all 159 counties in the state telling them to stop testing on the systems and that new databases would soon be sent, because of the error I was citing in my tweet. The email posted in full in that court filing is the email and court filing on which my completely accurate tweets were initially based.
Here's the reply from Twitter to my appeal...
I have now appealed a second time. Until either my appeals are successful or I delete the accurate tweet in question, I can't use Twitter at all, other than in "private browser mode" unsigned in. I can't tweet, reply or DM, etc.
UPDATE 10/10/2020, 12:31pm PT Just a quick update to note that I've now been waiting for a reply to my second "appeal" for more than 36 hours. I am still unable to use Twitter in the meantime. When I log on, this is all that I am allowed to see...
Curiously, it looks like some of the auto-tweets that I have set up via a third-party app (to note when various affiliates are running that day's BradCast) appear to still get posted to my Twitter feed. But I can't post there directly myself. Some have seen those tweets and asked if it means I'm un-suspended now. I am not. But I can't reply to them on Twitter to let them know!
Not sure how much longer I'll be able to wait for a reply to my second appeal, as I need to get back to work on Twitter, where I hear from a lot of folks with various election concerns that I need to dig into and/or report on, and otherwise rely on the service for news gathering and contact with sources, etc. That means I am likely going to have to relent and simply delete the accurate tweet in question to regain access to the service before the weekend is out. I will likely have no choice. But I still hold hope for a few more hours that someone there will look at my two "appeals" (only 124 characters allowed for each!) and ultimately do the right thing. I have "hope", but I'm certainly not holding my breath.
Thanks again for those who have spoken up in support on Twitter and via email and elsewhere. It's all much appreciated!
UPDATE 10/11/2020 8:15pm PT: Well, following three days of waiting for a reply from Twitter to my second "appeal" --- and still waiting for it --- at this point, I've got no choice but to simply delete the original tweet in question, despite its demonstrable accuracy. I simply can't afford to be locked out of Twitter any longer with another huge week in front of us all, three weeks from Election Day.
This remains a very disturbing situation. I have heard from journalists and other sources that Twitter may be working with election officials directly this year in their (justifiable) attempt to prevent dangerous misinformation from being shared on Twitter in the days leading up to Election Day. In theory, that would be fine, except that there are elections officials out there --- for example, those in the Georgia's Sec. of State's office --- who are simply lying to the public (and the federal courts) about their voting systems.
Georgia is hardly the only such office to be led by a duplicitous, disengenious, dishonest Sec. of State. See Alabama's Secretary John Merrill for instance. He lied to CNN on air on Election Night in 2017. After conversations with him about the lies he was telling to the public about his state's own voting systems, he eventually blocked me on Twitter, which is actually unlawful for a public official.
Preventing misinformation is one thing. Preventing demonstrably correct information from a journalist, simply because it is disputed by an election official with the agenda of instilling (a false sense of) confidence in their electoral system --- is another matter. And it's a damned dangerous one in the days and weeks ahead.
I have been in touch with some attorneys who are considering whether there are grounds for a suit of some sort. I don't know if relenting to the hostage situation to allow access to my Twitter feed again will make such a case moot. But, the fact is, Twitter is now too important to the work that I must do as a journalist --- to stay in contact with sources and to follow news --- that to remain off of it for any longer (as enjoyable as it has been in one sense!) has become untenable.
Here's what I was told when I agreed to delete the tweet...
So, Twitter wins this round. Journalism, evidence and Election Integrity lose. But that fight will have to wait for another day. I hope it is not a day in the near future. Georgia is hardly the only jurisdiction in the country right now with some very serious concerns and vulnerabilities regarding their dangerous, brittle, oft-failed and easily manipulated computerized voting, tabulation and poll check-in systems. And if those of us who tell the truth about them are to be handcuffed by the people and/or algorithms at Twitter, we could find ourselves in a very tenuous situation. This is chilling.
But that's where we are for now. For good or ill. I'll see you back on Twitter...at least for now. Thanks again to all of those who have tried to make some noise on my behalf when I couldn't, and on behalf of facts, truth and evidence. I look forward to rejoining that fight on Twitter...
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