Judicial Watch announced today that it received 540 pages and a supplemental four pages of documents 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 documents were “misinformation briefings” emails that were compiled by communications firm SKDK, that lists Biden for President as their top client of 2020. The documents 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.
The records were obtained in response to Judicial Watch’s California Public Records Act (CPRA) requests to the Office of the California Secretary of State for records related to the Office of Election Cybersecurity’s database of social media posts; communications with social media companies; and other social media related records regarding the 2020 elections. Judicial Watch filed the requests after a December 2020 report surfaced that the state agency was surveilling, tracking, and seeking to censor the speech of Americans:
The Office of Election Cybersecurity in the California Secretary of State’s office monitored and tracked social media posts, decided if they were misinformation, stored the posts in an internal database coded by threat level, and on 31 different occasions requested posts be removed. In 24 cases, the social media companies agreed and either took down the posts or flagged them as misinformation, according to Jenna Dresner, senior public information officer for the Office of Election Cybersecurity.
“We don’t take down posts, that is not our role to play,” Dresner said. “We alert potential sources of misinformation to the social media companies and we let them make that call based on community standards they created.”
Head of conservative group Judicial Watch Hosts video alleging Democrats benefit from incorrect voter rolls and ballot collection.
The Secretary of State’s office details its communication with YouTube: “We wanted to flag this YouTube video because it misleads community members about elections or other civic processes and misrepresents the safety and security of mail-in ballots.” The chart quotes Fitton describing Judicial Watch’s statement about its federal lawsuit settlement with Los Angeles County that will require it to clean up voter rolls and how a Michigan court “changed the rules” on ballot deadlines and ballot harvesting. (The controversial decision was overturned in October 2020.)
The document shows that California state officials contacted YouTube directly to remove the video on September 24, 2020, and that YouTube seemed to respond by deleting the video on September 27, 2020.
On September 11, 2020, outside consultant Zeke Sandoval, of the SKDK communications firm, provides the Secretary of State’s Office a “Misinformation Daily Briefing,” which again targets Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:
Trump tweeted, “The big Unsolicited Ballot States should give it up NOW, before it is too late, and ask people to go to the Polling Booths and, like always before, VOTE. Otherwise, MAYHEM!!! Solicited Ballots (absentee) are OK,” and Twitter was quick to fact check and shared a link with info about how voting by mail is safe and secure. Viral reply on Twitter from Tom Fitton asserting, “Mailing 51 million ballots to those who haven’t asked for increases risk of voter fraud and voter intimidation!”
A 30-page “Misinformation Tracking Sheet” lists social media posts that the office disagrees with and has asked social media companies to remove.
In an internal email on January 12, 2021, Deputy Secretary of State and Chief Communications Officer Paula Valleemails Chief Counsel Steve Reyes and Jenna Dresner in the Office of Cybersecurity, as well as Press Secretary Sam Mahood stating that she is uncomfortable with CalMattersreporter Fred Brewster’s questions about the office’s tracking and censoring efforts:
Hi Steve – Please see below – the reporter at Cal Matters who PRA’d us is doing a follow-up story. We asked him to send us his questions. I am not necessarily comfortable with his line of questions and the additional doors that this will open. I want to get your feedback I would simply like to give him a statement about what our goal is and leave it at that. Thoughts?
Brewster’s questions, which include concerns from citizens who were targeted by the “Misinformation Tracker,” were sent on January 12, 2021:
I reached out to the users on page 7 and page 21 of the Misinformation Tracker request I received. Both individuals wanted to know how their posts ended up being labeled misinformation and how, given their relatively small following, they came to the attention of the Office of Election Cybersecurity?
Another user named “DC O’Bryan” had his post taken down (page 5 of the Misinformation Tracker). In an email, you highlight a report sent to the state that says, “I don’t know if this is hot air meant to provoke. If it is, a call from an official might get the point across that you don’t joke about election fraud.” Was O’Bryan called to confirm that his post was a joke?
How does the Office of Election Cybersecurity differentiate between parody and satire and misinformation?
Did CISA, Facebook, or any other partners provide guidance on how to spot and define misinformation? If someone has their posts in the Misinformation Tracker, are there plans to contact those individuals and is there a way for them to petition the state to delete them?
The Secretary of State’s Office emails Facebook and Twitter on April 25,2019, with requests from the Office to remove tweets and posts for what they have labeled “misinformation.”
The office emails Facebook, attempting to set up a call to discuss removing future posts. This 15-minute call is with “new Facebook contact for social media reporting: Javier Hernandez, Politics & Government Outreach” in order to discuss how the office will report posts to Facebook. In the email, Facebook outlines its goals to directly work with “electoral authorities in every state” so that they can “report instances of voter suppression on Facebook directly to our team, so [Facebook] can look at them quickly and remove them from the site.”
On December 31, 2019, after the Secretary of State’s office reports a tweet to [email protected], Kevin Kane, a Twitter representative, replies and offers his direct contact for the Office’s future needs in removing posts.
In a September 21, 2020, email chain with the subject line “elections issue,” Jenna Dresner in the Secretary of State’s Office of Cybersecurity writes to “Cristina and team” at Facebook at 11:43 a.m.: “We want to flag this Instagram post.”
The reply comes from Facebook Community Operations: “Thank you for your report. We have reviewed the … content and can confirm that the content has been removed …” At 12:53 pm. Dresner writes to Press Secretary Sam Mahood, Social Media Coordinator Akilah Jones and others, “Post from this morning was removed (and fast!) Akilah we can update tracker.”
In an October 28, 2020, email, Jones writes to Flores at Facebook and CCs Dresner that a post, which was from a user named @Screenplaywale, “voters are being asked to gerrymander and voter suppress their ‘trump supporting father’s ballots.’”
In an email chain on September 14, 2020, titled “Election Issue” the office internally complains about how long it takes Facebook to remove a post and how to speed up this process.
Mahood writes to Dresner: “It looks like it took Facebook 2 weeks to respond to Chris. This is way too long, we should raise to FB and make sure we know best method to report posts.” Dresner responds: “Sure – I’m 98% sure this is the one you chased with an email directly to our FB contacts which resulted in it taken down that day. I can confirm that process works for the future?”
On August 22, 2019, Maria Benson, director of communications for the National Association of Secretaries of State emails the communications directors for Secretaries of State offices that Twitter confirmed that they streamlined their process for government officials to report “misinformation:”
Great news—Twitter is now on-boarding states into their mis/disinformation partner support portal! Once on-boarded, you will be able to directly report mis/disinformation instead of having to submit it to me first….” [Emphasis in original]
Benson also gives contact information for Facebook and Google complaints, and says: “If any of the items you reported do not get prompt attention, please let me know and I can also reach out the companies.”
On September 24, 2019, The California Secretary of State’s office confirms that it plans to participate in Facebook’s “misinformation” training which is a review from Facebook on “monitoring guidelines for reporting misinformation” and teaches participants how to use the direct reporting channel Facebook opened for them.
On October 1, 2020, Benson forwards information from Twitter about their training to directly remove posts they label as misinformation to the Secretary of State’s office. This is described by Twitter as: “training on creative and effective content strategies on Twitter in advance of the U.S. Election,” as well as “onboarding state and local election officials onto Twitter’s Partner Support Portal.” This portal is described as, “a dedicated way for critical stakeholders – like you – to flag concerns directly to Twitter.”
“These new documents suggest a conspiracy against the First Amendment rights of Americans by the California Secretary of State, the Biden campaign operation, and Big Tech,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “These documents blow up the big lie that Big Tech censorship is ‘private’ – as the documents show collusion between a whole group of government officials in multiple states to suppress speech about election controversies.”