Angus King is the latest public figure to be targeted by the release of so-called Twitter Files.
U.S. Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, left, and Jon Tester, D-Montana, arrive for a closed briefing on Feb. 14, 2023, at the Capitol in Washington. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — U.S. Sen. Angus King’s 2018 campaign flagged hundreds of social media accounts as suspicious in communications with Twitter, including those run by the Maine Republican Party and conservative activists.

The communications were made public on Saturday as part of an ongoing release of certain internal documents known as the “Twitter Files” overseen by new CEO Elon Musk and independent journalists who share his view that the site suppressed conservative viewpoints, even though Twitter’s own research shows right-leaning outlets see more amplification.

The files have shown the social media site dealing with thorny issues of censorship during a rise of online misinformation with campaigns lobbying Twitter on its policing of accounts. Musk’s critics worry that the documents are being selectively released to fit a narrative.

King’s example fits that on both counts. The files show a time-intensive effort by his campaign to flag more than 350 Twitter accounts as “suspicious” after a conversation with one of the site’s higher-ups. The senator’s office said one of the two lists his campaign provided to Twitter was released by journalist Matt Taibbi and the other included liberal sources of misinformation.

Almost all of the flagged accounts were conservative and appear to be under anonymous handles. Among them were legitimate accounts, including a “research” campaign run by the Maine Republican Party. There were also individual supporters of state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, who ran a longshot campaign against King that year.

That group included conservative activists, including former Republican legislative candidate Matthew Maloney and real estate developer and former gubernatorial candidate David Jones.

The spreadsheet provided to Twitter by King’s campaign included justifications for flagging them, including those who shared messages critical of King. Maloney was among 50 or so deemed a “troll.” Jones was a “local troll.” Many others appeared to be bots. King’s team called the Republican account “SO WEIRD.”

Jones said he was surprised and disappointed in his appearance on the list, adding that while he rarely agrees with King, he has always respected him.

“It’s not like Eric was going to beat him. Why would he even do it?” Jones said. “Is he insecure?”

Twitter got the spreadsheet in September 2018 after King’s campaign manager, Toby McGrath, had a conversation with Kevin Kane, a former Republican congressional staffer who led the company’s public policy arm, according to an internal email published by Taibbi.

That followed a conversation about “a doctored and misleading video” that the King campaign flagged for Twitter’s internal review, King spokesperson Matthew Felling said in a statement. Staff responded by inviting the campaign to share other accounts that raised alarms.

King’s campaign later shared two internal lists “flagging misleading information coming from both sides of the political spectrum, not just from conservative sources,” Felling said.

The senator’s office did not say what the video was, but many of the spreadsheet entries are dated around the same time that Brakey’s campaign released an edited  video of King that the Republican tried to use to allege the senator was comparing Russian hacking to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Felling said King’s campaign did not refer accounts to Twitter for the express purpose of banning them, but that they were flagged for review. Brakey compared King’s activity to “ black lists of dissidents for censorship and monitoring” in a Sunday tweet and said he was considering a Federal Election Commission complaint against King, though he did not cite any area of law.

“I think it’s wrong to censor people who are critical of him, whether they’re coming from the left or the right,” Brakey said in an interview.

King has been outspoken in the realm of disinformation, questioning representatives from Twitter, Facebook and Google in 2016 on the subject of interference in that year’s election by singling out a Columbia University report on Russian troll farms, bots and other accounts.

His campaign two years later had “a proactive and defensive digital strategy to identify, understand, and respond to disinformation campaigns, according to a biography for Lisa Kaplan, who served as King’s digital director in 2018. She did not respond to a Sunday request for comment through a law school that she works with.

Kaplan now runs a private company protecting clients against disinformation campaigns and told The New York Times last year that she is trying to recruit former Twitter employees.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...