Rantz: Auditor’s Office Censors Online Political Speech, Calls Election Day Voting ‘Disinformation’
Thurston County Auditor’s Office Mary Hall coordinated with local and federal authorities to remove constitutionally protected speech from social media sites and YouTube. He considers it “unsafe” to tell voters to submit their ballots on Election Day and even proactively searches for content to flag and censor.
In an Oct. 6 Facebook post, the office account called election misinformation “the biggest problem facing free and fair elections.” The message asked voters to “protect our republic” by emailing the so-called disinformation messages to the office. It says the auditor “will work with our state and federal partners to respond.”
Emails obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH show that Hall staff attempted to remove, censor or otherwise report online content from Facebook and YouTube. The office works through the Center for Internet Security (CIS) of the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Secretary of State (OSOS).
Meet the government censor
Emmett O’Connell is an Outreach and Education Specialist for the Thurston County Auditor’s Office. He is also a small donor to Thurston County Democrats, according to records obtained by the Public Disclosure Commission. Part of his “awareness” at IEC involves reporting content they don’t like – including content about out-of-county elections.
On October 17, 2020, O’Connell emailed CIS a screenshot of a Facebook post in a then-public group. It showed a photo of a white truck with a postal ballot box lodged in the bed. The poster read, “seems legit,” along with an emoji of a woman crossing her arms.
O’Connell saw this as misinformation that needs to be addressed.
“We have confirmed with the Grays Harbor County Auditor’s Office that this urn was being transported by them from Pierce County. This is being shared as if the ballot box had been stolen,” O’Connell wrote to CIS.
But the message is political commentary and unquestionably protected speech. He didn’t even comment on election security. But O’Connell didn’t see the post as harmless. He interpreted it as “infamous”.
“From our perspective, the implication was obvious that something nefarious was going on with the box. The comment thread made it clear that the public reading the post thought the urn was stolen,” O’ said. Connell at the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.
The auditor’s office reported the message
Two days after his email to CIS, the post was flagged by Facebook. A CIS representative informed O’Connell of the action.
“Facebook has reviewed the content and flagged the message: ‘Official ballot boxes are secure and reliable. You can confirm official locations with your local election office. (Source: Bipartisan Policy Center) Facebook also added a link to “Get Voting Information.”
Who determines what constitutes election disinformation? With regard to free speech, should government officials – who may have a reason to silence legitimate critics of the office under the auspices of combating “misinformation” – influence social media companies to to act ?
“Our partners at OSOS and DHS ask us to report election misinformation. What happens to the message after that, whether it includes a larger context or removes the message, depends on the platform itself,” O’Connell told The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.
This assertion is obviously misleading. The intent is to flag or remove content, otherwise O’Connell or the listener might simply post in the thread whatever context they feel is missing. They could also post their own commentary on the story, without engaging in third-party censorship.
Chasing Glen Morgan
O’Connell also challenged government watchdog Glen Morgan on October 29, 2021.
Morgan posted a YouTube video with a “homeless whistleblower” who he said exposed apparent voter fraud. O’Connell was not a fan and reported the video to CIS and Google, which owns YouTube. He offered several rebuttals of the video’s claim.
“Thank you for letting us know about this report. Have you heard from Google yet?” an IEC electoral operations analyst wrote O’Connell.
O’Connell replied that he had not yet received a response. The CIS staff member then offered more contacts at Google, as well as people at Facebook, to contact.
“We sent the disinformation report to the Google contacts you suggested, but we haven’t heard or seen any further action. Is there anything else we can do?” O’Connell asked CIS.
Morgan tells The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that Google never took any action against his video.
“Here’s the thing, they only want to step in if they think the story doesn’t glorify the office or promote their agenda,” Morgan explained.
Contesting the Elections in Washington
Washington allows voters to mail their ballots on Election Day, as long as they are postmarked by 8 p.m. Voters can also place their ballots in a ballot box or deliver them to a county election office by the 8 p.m. deadline. O’Connell, however, considers some of this information to be misinformation.
“Also, take for example the ‘cast your ballot on Election Day’ narrative that we see circulating now. This is a very dangerous disinformation narrative; this makes it more likely that a ballot will be rejected for being delivered late. The last pick-up time on many mailboxes is 3 p.m. on Election Day. We close drop boxes promptly at 8 p.m.,” O’Connell explained. “49.63% of ballots rejected in the August primary were rejected because they were returned late. And, because of the trend results, we know that more conservative voters tend to vote late anyway. By encouraging even more late voting, it could mean even more ballot rejections. »
Waiting until Election Day to vote might be a bad strategy, as the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH argued, but it’s definitely not misinformation. I pressed O’Connell to explain.
“We want every ballot to count, we assume that any encouragement to vote late means it is more likely that the ballot will be submitted after the deadline. Nearly half of the rejected ballots in the August primary were because they were returned late, some even left on top of drop boxes after they closed,” he said. he answered.
That’s quite the intention assumption. It also shows the dangers of government censorship.
Assumptions are not facts
To “assume” a message means that the Thurston County Auditor’s Office is acting on information that has not been presented. The Office of the Auditor does not correct misinformation. They attempt to silence or influence information that they do not support. And at least one staff member reporting content is donating to a local Democratic group that could benefit from removing some political content.
CIS is not intended to censor or flag protected speech. And a spokesperson for the OSOS office explains that it “was not directly involved in attempting to remove the county-specific posts from social media or actions of that nature.”
O’Connell and Hall work to influence the election. They may think they’re doing it for the right reasons, but that doesn’t make it appropriate. They use the power of government to influence companies that may not see it the way they see it, but are not looking to do battle with an adversary that has a lot of power to regulate it. What if O’Connell or Hall were wrong? There is no mechanism for a voter to correct erroneous information from the verifier. And we don’t have a government agency to back our claims with the social media giants.
The auditor’s office can very easily post comments or corrections on threads they see or on their own social media accounts. They can reach out to the media to amplify their corrections in ways that Washingtonians cannot. The way to fight protected speech that you don’t like — or speech that’s factually inaccurate — is to use more speech.
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