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Iowa Officials Coordinated With Big Tech to Censor Election Posts: Judicial Watch

May 4, 2021 | , , ,

The records show communications between the Secretary of State’s office and representatives of Facebook and Twitter to Target Judicial Watch Posts.

(Washington, DC) Judicial Watch announced today that it received 624 pages of records from the office of the Secretary of State of Iowa, revealing how state officials pressured social media companies (Twitter and Facebook) to censor posts about the 2020 election. Included in these records were emails from Iowa state officials to representatives of Big Tech pressuring these companies to remove Judicial Watch’s posts. The emails show how the state agency successfully pressured Facebook to censor Judicial Watch’s post about Iowa’s management of its voter rolls.  

Judicial Watch received the records as a result of a June 2020 Iowa Open Records lawsuit that was filed after the Iowa Secretary of State failed to comply with a February 2020 request for records and communications about a Judicial Watch report regarding the accuracy of the state’s voter registration rolls (Judicial Watch v. Iowa Secretary of State (No. 05771 EQCE085973)). Judicial Watch was represented by Iowa lawyer Alan R. Ostergren of Des Moines, Iowa.

The records show that officials in the Iowa Secretary of State office on multiple occasions contacted officials from Facebook and Twitter to try to have these companies remove Judicial Watch posts that raised concerns about Iowa’s failure to maintain accurate election rolls.

On February 3, 2020, at 5:19 p.m., Kevin Hall, the communications director for the Iowa Secretary of State, wrote in a February 3, 2020, email to Facebook official Rachel Holland:

Rachel,

We’ve been playing whack-a-mole with this false story all day. Is there anything you can do to help: [likely https://www.facebook.com/JudicialWatch/posts/10157583458431943

We’ve told them is fake. They have it PINNED to the top of their page. 

Here’s our rebuttal: https://sos.iowa.gov/news/2020_02_02.html

Holland responded at 6:11p.m., writing:

Hi Kevin,

Circling back with an update regarding the content posted by Judicial Watch. Our third-party fact checkers have rated this content false, and we have applied a filter over the content warning users before they click to see it that the content has been rated false by independent fact checkers.

Please continue to report violating content to us by emailing reports@content.facebook.com, and copying me (RachelHolland@fb.com), as I will be on an airplane for the next couple hours. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding this or any other matters. 

A couple of hours later, Hall followed up, “Thank you! They have new posts up, doubling down on the false claims.” 

And Holland responded, “Thanks for flagging- we’ve got a full team with eyes on this now and are applying the false filter to similar articles as well. I’ll send you an additional update shortly!” 

That same day, Hall and Maria Benson, the director of communications at the National Association of Secretaries of State, both tried to convince Twitter to censor Judicial Watch’s posts but were ultimately unsuccessful. 

Hall filed a report with Twitter, and Benson escalated it by looping in Kevin Kane from Twitter. On February 3, 2020, Benson wrote, “Iowa Secretary of State has reported the below election misinformation, but Twitter has declined to take it down. As you can see from facts the tweets are clearly wrong. I wanted to bring this to your attention to hopefully remedy the situation. I’ve cc’d Kevin Hall, their Communicators Director.”

Kane responded rejecting the request saying, “Thanks Maria – This was reviewed by our team and is not in violation of our election integrity policy as it does not suppress voter turnout or mislead people about when. where. or how to vote. I understand this is not the outcome you are seeking and appreciate you continuing to report Tweets to our team.”

In an email the next day, Hall wrote to Kane saying, “Facebook, thankfully, was helpful. I would suggest perhaps reviewing your policies at Twitter and putting them more in line with what Facebook is doing to counter election misinformation.” 

After being rejected by Twitter, Benson emailed Brian Scully, an official at the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, writing on February 3, 2020: 

Hey Brian,

Can you report this as well? Hannity is now retweeting and Twitter isn’t playing ball with us. I’ve cc’d Kevin Hall who you met Saturday. He’s IA SOS’s Communications Director. He’s been reporting and playing wack a mole by trying to reply to misleading tweets.

Scully responded promising to contact Twitter. “Sorry … been out of pocket a bit. Will reach out to Twitter. Let me know if you get something.”

“These records are yet another example of state officials conspiring with Big Tech to deny Americans their First Amendment rights,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “These records further show that Big Tech censorship is a government scandal: Iowa government officials worked with Facebook to remove posts they didn’t like, and Facebook bowed to this political pressure immediately. It should be disturbing to all Americans that government officials are working to censor speech they disagree with and that these behemoth companies often seem willing to roll over and censor free speech.”

Judicial Watch last week released records from the office of the Secretary of State of California revealing how state officials pressured social media companies (Twitter, Facebook, Google (YouTube)) to censor posts about the 2020 election. Included in these records were “misinformation briefings” emails that were compiled by communications firm SKDK, that lists Biden for President as their top client of 2020. The records show how the state agency successfully pressured YouTube to censor a Judicial Watch video concerning the vote by mail and a Judicial Watch lawsuit settlement about California voter roll clean up.

“These records are yet another example of state officials conspiring with Big Tech to deny Americans their First Amendment rights,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement.

Last week, Judicial Watch released records showing that the California Secretary of State, the Biden campaign operation, and Big Tech coordinated to censor some social media posts about the 2020 election.

EpochTimes_510A8534-600x388 Iowa Officials Coordinated With Big Tech to Censor Election Posts: Judicial Watch Business Featured Top Stories U.S. [your]NEWS
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, in Washington, D.C., on May 29, 2019. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

“These records further show that Big Tech censorship is a government scandal: Iowa government officials worked with Facebook to remove posts they didn’t like, and Facebook bowed to this political pressure immediately. It should be disturbing to all Americans that government officials are working to censor speech they disagree with and that these behemoth companies often seem willing to roll over and censor free speech,” Fitton continued.

Kevin Hall, the communications director for the Iowa Secretary of State, emailed Facebook official Rachel Holland on Feb. 3, 2020, asking for help with a Judicial Watch post they deemed false, according to the records (pdf) released by Judicial Watch.

Holland responded within an hour that Facebook had “applied a filter over the content warning users before they click to see that the content has been rated false by independent fact-checkers.”

A couple of hours later, Hall contacted Holland again, saying “They [Judicial Watch] have new posts up, doubling down on the false claims.”

Holland responded that Facebook had “a full team with eyes on this now and are applying the false filter to similar articles as well.”

Hall also filed a report with Twitter trying to censor the same post. After Twitter declined to do so, Maria Benson, the director of communications at the National Association of Secretaries of State, joined the effort and urged Kevin Kane from Twitter to take it down.

Kane declined the request again, saying the post “is not in violation of our election integrity policy as it does not suppress voter turnout or mislead people about when, where, or how to vote.”

Benson then emailed Brian Scully, an official at the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), asking him to report the issue to Twitter.

Scully promised to contact Twitter. “Sorry … been out of pocket a bit. Will reach out to Twitter. Let me know if you get something.”

The post that Hall aimed to take down was a statement made by Judicial Watch that eight Iowa counties had registration rates over 100 percent of the voting-age population, based on data provided by Iowa to the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC).

EpochTimes_510A8534-600x388 Iowa Officials Coordinated With Big Tech to Censor Election Posts: Judicial Watch Business Featured Top Stories U.S. [your]NEWS
A voter marks his ballot at a polling place in Dennis Wilkening’s shed in Richland, Iowa, on Nov. 3, 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate and Judicial Watch sparred over the claim at the time.

Pate, a Republican, said in a statement that Judicial Watch’s claim was “deeply flawed” and “patently false,” and the Iowa population was greatly underestimated, based on data reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Judicial Watch fired back the next day, saying “it is shameful” that Pate is misleading Americans and state residents about the accuracy of Iowa’s registration rolls. Fitton told The Epoch Times at the time that “the EAC data is the gold standard,” and Judicial Watch had successfully used analyses of EAC data in several lawsuits in other states.

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