Arizona Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs reportedly contributed to the censorship of social media speech when she was serving as Secretary of State. Email leaks have revealed that she initiated the censorship of some Twitter users in the past.
Documents that came out as part of discovery in the case Missouri v. Biden revealed that Hobbs’ office requested a review of Twitter posts from the Center for Internet Security (CIS), a nonprofit organization that stands as a mediator between social media companies and government agencies and officials. The office had claimed that Arizona’s voter registration system was owned and operated by foreign actors.
Hobbs’s office, on Jan. 7, 2021, told CIS that the posts were aimed at undermining confidence in Arizona’s election institution.
When CIS reached out to Twitter, Twitter promised to escalate the issues with the offending posts, and seven hours later, the social media company told CIS that it had deleted the posts as promised.
Secretary of State @katiehobbs directs Arizonans to monitor election-related speech and suppress conspiracies. Fascinating timing given the recent discovery that Hobbs' office effectively controlled election-related speech online. pic.twitter.com/W7nskWV63s
— Corinne Murdock (@CorinneMurdock) December 6, 2022
After the email exchange, Hobbs has tweeted statements that talk about the danger of misinformation and disinformation.
“Lies, conspiracy theories, and disinformation pose a real threat to our democracy,” an April 2021 tweet read.
Lies, conspiracy theories, and disinformation pose a real threat to our democracy.
Until the legislature is willing to commit to funding robust public education efforts around our elections, open and transparent partnerships like this will continue to be vital. https://t.co/GBs33qlGQW
— Secretary Katie Hobbs (@SecretaryHobbs) April 7, 2021
Hobbs also spoke about her efforts against misinformation during her campaign last September. “I’ve fought against misinformation and even death threats to defend Arizona’s elections,” she wrote on Sep. 13, 2021. Four days before that, she made a post where she promised never to back down from fighting the spread of misinformation.
In light of Hobbs’ involvement in social media censorship, GOP leaders have accused her of suppressing free speech and are calling for an investigation.
“The Republican Party of Arizona calls on Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich to immediately investigate the Secretary of State over a government agency directing a private company (Twitter) to suppress free speech,” a letter to Attorney General of Arizona Mark Brnovich read.
The letter emphasized the people’s right to “be critical of our government” and “vocalize those rights,” pointing out that Hobbs’ actions appeared to be in violation of the First Amendment aimed at protecting citizens’ speech from the government.
On the defending end is Hobbs’ team which has attempted to counter the controversy with explanations of how she was only doing her job. According to Hobbs’ Assistant Secretary of State Allie Bones, the Secretary of State’s job extended beyond informing voters. The now-incoming chief of staff explained that secretaries of state also have the power to get what they deem untrue statements out of the way.
Bones further explained that Hobbs’s arrangement with CIS was not outside her responsibilities but was one of the ways they make sure voters are informed. She also insisted that the email exchange, which occurred the day after the Capitol riots and nearly five months before her run for governor, has nothing to do with this year’s elections.
Ahead of the 2020 elections, CIS’s Election Infrastructure Information Sharing & Analysis Center (EI-ISAC) had a “Situation Awareness Room” where government entities and private companies coordinated regarding the spread of information and other threats to the upcoming elections. CIS mentioned in its report for the year that election officers were key in the creation of the communications hub.
CIS works with all 50 states in over 2,900 election offices nationwide. The organization has the backing of Obama administration top official John Gilligan who became the president and Chief Executive Officer in October 2018.