The recent revelation that Sen. Angus King’s campaign staff tracked hostile social media accounts and reported them to Twitter as suspicious was a big disappointment to me, mainly because I didn’t make the cut. Surely as a conservative columnist with a Twitter following in the thousands, if Sen. King had an enemies list, I would be on it. As it turns out, I wasn’t. Neither were any other prominent commentators, consultants or activists, really. Instead, the accounts that were flagged in 2018 were suspected by King’s campaign staffers – who seem to have had way too much time on their hands – of being fake accounts, created by his opponent or an allied group.

To be sure, many of these Twitter and Facebook accounts could have been been fake. The question is: So what? Some of them are still active, some of them are not. The ones that are still active may be real people, or they may be fake accounts. Many of the concerns raised by the King campaign appear to be based on the sharing of a video made by the Eric Brakey campaign, criticizing King for an absurd link he made between cyberattacks and the Sept. 11 attacks. Brakey’s video did take clips from different speeches, but that’s not unusual in political videos – one’s opponent isn’t going to simply use an entire speech verbatim in a 30-second ad.

It’s also not particularly surprising that a politician would try to flag accounts that they consider suspicious to a particular social media company. In and of itself, that’s unlikely to be a crime, nor is it really unethical, even though the rest of the Maine delegation say they don’t do it. It would probably only be illegal or unethical if the elected official actually used the power of their office to pressure the social media company to suspend a particular account – like, for example, threatening to launch an investigation into the company.

Still, even if King’s actions here don’t quite rise to the level of a scandal, they are a disappointment. For one, just because any politician can flag social media accounts as suspicious doesn’t mean that they should. It’s entirely unnecessary. There’s no reason for an elected official to flag accounts as suspicious simply for engaging in speech that they happen to dislike. Even if that doesn’t rise to the level of a legal violation of the First Amendment, it certainly violates the spirit of a free exchange of ideas. It may not be illegal or unethical, but it’s certainly a bit unseemly, just as it would be for a politician to ask a newspaper not to run critical letters to the editor.

This is doubly disappointing because it was done by Sen. King, who’s cultivated the image of being a non-partisan public servant over the course of his decades in office. From his time as the governor who guided Maine through the ice storm and helped get kids all over the state free laptops to his election to the U.S. Senate, King has attempted to remain above the day-to-day partisan political fray. With the help of much of the state’s mainstream media, he’s cultivated a myth that a lack of a partisan label is somehow virtuous in and of itself.

All of that is perfect nonsense, and King’s willingness to report critics on social media should make it abundantly clear. There’s nothing inherently good about being unenrolled, whether as a voter or as a candidate for office: it’s simply the avoidance of a particular political label.


In King’s case, it was a personal political convenience. When he first ran for governor in 1994, former Gov. Joe Brennan still dominated the Democratic party and King probably couldn’t have defeated him. By the time King ran for the U.S. Senate, he’d embedded the “independent” label as part of his personal brand – running as a Democrat would have been like shaving his mustache.

Rather than being some virtuous non-partisan figure, Sen. King is just another politician, and this incident shows that he can be a particularly thin-skinned one at times. If Sen. King chooses to run for another term in 2024, it’s unlikely this will sink his chances. But hopefully it finally removes that aura of non-partisanship that he tends to use as a shield against any and all criticism.

All candidates and politicians in Maine ought to be evaluated as individuals based on their own record and positions, not on the letter that happens to be next to their name on the ballot.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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