Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King is under fire for flagging as suspicious more than 350 social media posts on Twitter and Facebook, many of which criticized him or supported his election opponents.

A spokesperson for King said the senator’s 2018 campaign staff initially alerted Twitter to what it considered an edited and misleading video of King comparing Russian cyberattacks against the United States to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Twitter then invited the campaign to share additional posts it considered suspicious, he said.

King spokesperson Matthew Felling said in a written statement Tuesday that the senator’s 2018 reelection campaign did not request that any of the flagged posts be taken down or blocked.

“From everything I’ve been told from those familiar with the campaign operations, the King digital team flagged the video for an internal content review from Twitter and when invited to share any other misleading or inaccurate information, they did so – deferring to Twitter’s best practices and professional judgment,” he said. “They flagged it to Twitter for an internal review, in much the same way that false campaign ads are flagged for scrutiny when aired on TV.”

Felling said campaign officials shared suspicious posts from both conservative and liberal accounts, although the list released by Twitter and circulated over the weekend included mostly conservative social media posts. Felling, who did not work for King at the time, said he did not have a list of other flagged accounts and could not locate one to provide to a reporter Tuesday.

The King campaign’s communication with Twitter was revealed in the latest round of what’s become known as the Twitter Files, leaked documents that show behind-the-scenes efforts by the U.S. intelligence community and politicians to ferret out the kind of fake accounts and misinformation that can easily spread on social media.


The files are being released by Twitter CEO Elon Musk to certain journalists. Former Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi posted the documents about King over the weekend. Kevin Kane, who at the time worked on public policy for Twitter, described the list of “suspicious Twitter accounts” as “very large” in an email released by Taibbi.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Angus King said in a written statement Tuesday that the senator’s campaign did not request that any of the flagged posts be taken down or blocked. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Mark Brewer, chair of political science at the University of Maine Orono, said he was surprised by the disclosure because King was widely expected to cruise to reelection in 2018. But Brewer also said he’s concerned that Musk has only made these files available to Taibbi, who is only releasing select batches.

“If you’re going to make this kind of a dump, make it fully available to all journalists, that way we can get a variety of analysis and perspectives on it,” Brewer said. “I found Taibbi very entertaining when he wrote for Rolling Stone, but that doesn’t mean I’m going trust what he’s putting out here in terms of content and analysis.”

Still, Brewer said, the revelation will likely further inflame conservatives who feel like social media companies are biased against them, despite internal reviews that have concluded otherwise. Brewer said it won’t likely result in long-term political damage for King.

Lance Dutson, a Republican political strategist, said the disclosure deserves more scrutiny, especially because King’s position on the Senate Intelligence Committee gave him access to top decision makers at Twitter and Facebook – access his two lesser-known opponents did not have.

“I have never had that level of access to these big companies,” Dutson said.


“It’s very, very abnormal,” Dutson said of King’s social media list. “And I would have to say, unfortunately, (it’s) kind of a pattern with Angus King and his political career.”

Dutson led Republican Charlie Summers’ campaign against King in 2012 and recalled how King paid interns to post positive comments under fake names in response to online news stories and blogs about the campaign.

“If that’s not disinformation, I don’t know what is,” he said. “His sudden concern with disinformation as a principled thing seems kind of out of place. What does seem in place is a pattern of using dirty digital tricks to advance his political campaigns.”

Fake social media accounts and the spread of disinformation came under heavy scrutiny following the 2016 presidential election, when officials accused Russia of saturating social media sites with fake accounts in an effort to help Donald Trump win.

King has played a central role in examining disinformation as part of the larger effort to enhance cyber security in the U.S.

It’s unclear whether any of the 354 posts flagged by King were removed. But King seems to stand alone in his practice of tracking critical social media posts, at least here in Maine.


Spokespeople for Maine’s other members of Congress told the Press Herald that they do not keep lists of critical social media accounts to report to companies, although they report direct physical threats to Capitol Police and imposter accounts to social media companies.

A spokesperson of Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said the senator’s office has reported “a small handful” of accounts seeking to impersonate Collins by using her name, image or fake quotes, which is “a clear violation of social media platforms’ terms of service.” Collins also serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“We do not keep a list of accounts that are critical of Senator Collins or that appear suspicious,” Christopher Knight said. “Our office has never reported someone to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram for expressing opinions with which we disagree.”

A spokesperson for Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said the congresswoman does not keep a list of social media critics, but her staff does report threats.

Spokesperson Victoria Bonney said in a written statement that “social media platforms have long been the Wild West for bots and trolls.”

“Given how unregulated the tech industry is now, social media managers are left to safeguard these platforms from hate speech and violent threats on their own,” Bonney said. “Reporting the harassment of social media bots and trolls is a completely standard and necessary practice.”


While the Twitter Files reports seem intended to prove that social media companies discriminate against conservative voices, Bonney said she’s seen a proliferation of “new far right conspiracy theories” using Pingree’s name, while engagement with posts about progressive policies has “plummeted” on Twitter and Facebook.

A spokesperson for Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, said his staff does not keep lists of social media critics.

According to files released Saturday by Taibbi, King’s campaign staff flagged over 350 Twitter posts as suspicious, nearly one-third of which (109) were connected to his Republican opponent, Eric Brakey, who is now serving in the Maine Legislature. The messages were either liked, retweeted or originally posted by Brakey, who lost by nearly 20 percentage points to King in 2018.

“Compiling black lists of dissidents for censorship – these are tactics of kingpins and mob bosses, not public servants,” Brakey said in a written statement Tuesday. “If we still lived in a just society that valued the Bill of Rights, Angus King would be too ashamed to file for re-election after these revelations of political thuggery.”

The types of accounts flagged were described by King’s campaign with a variety of labels including bot, troll, suspected bot and QAnon-related bot. Others are simply labeled “weird or “so weird.” One is labeled “possible troll, but occasionally expresses positive sentiment about ASK,” a reference to King’s initials.

Fewer than a dozen of the posts on the list released by Twitter appear to be connected to King’s Democratic opponent, Zak Ringelstein. The King campaign flagged suspected ‘bot’ accounts that engaged with Ringelstein or were followed by him.


The communications between the campaign and Twitter started in response to a YouTube video posted on Sept. 11, 2018, by Brakey, in which King is comparing cyber attacks to the terrorists that carried out 9/11, killing thousands of people by crashing airliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. A third plane, bound for Washington, D.C., was brought down by passengers in Pennsylvania.

“That was, I would argue, the beginning of an attack that’s continuing today,” King says in the video. “They used airplanes (to crash) into towers. Now people can use the click of a computer key in St. Petersburg, Russia, to attack.”

A portion of King’s remarks were edited out and the picture fades to another portion of the speech. “It’s an attack that continues and it’s the same kind of attack today that occurred in 2001,” he said.

Felling could not say exactly why the campaign considered the video misleading. He was hired as King’s communication director in January 2019.

Brakey denied doctoring the video.

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