The Austin Chronicle

The Right Confounded by Twitter

By Richard Whittaker, August 5, 2011, News

First World Problems: Problems from living in a wealthy, industrialized nation that third worlders would probably roll their eyes at.

July was a rough month for Empower Texans President Michael Quinn Sullivan. He survived a "social media ordeal" when he and his fellow conservatives underwent the torture of having their Twitter accounts suspended for three days.

On July 19, Empower Texans bleated that "Without warning or notification, social media mini-blog site Twitter on Monday simultaneously 'suspended' the main Empower Texans feed along with the personal accounts of all staff." According to Sullivan, it was because of "unspecified violations of Twitter policies." This left the well-funded conservative lobby group with only its website, Facebook, mailing lists, press contacts, and coterie of front operations and spin-off programs to get its message out.

As is its policy, Twitter declined to comment on the suspensions, so cue the conspiracy theories. Joshua Treviño, vice president of communications for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, tweeted, "There's 3 options on the Empower Texans fracas: their accounts are compromised; someone is gaming Twitter; or Twitter is targeting them." Conservative blog railed, "Twitter Kills the Most Important State Level Conservative Group in the Country." WorldNetDaily columnist Andrea Shea King implied a connection between the account suspensions and a February meeting with President Barack Obama and a group of tech industry leaders, including Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. There was even a #FreeMQS hashtag for Sullivan's Twitter supporters to console this modern-day cyber-Gandhi.

One defender was Weston Hicks of conservative blog AgendaWise, who proudly admitted that the accounts had been suspended because of Twitter handle squatting. On July 21, he blogged that Twitter had suspended every account "on our server," including the Empower Texans account, because AgendaWise Executive Director Daniel Greer had set up a series of Twitter accounts "related to StateImpact, a [George] Soros project coming to Texas soon." That kind of cybersquatting is a clear violation of Twitter's terms of service, and Twitter responded by suspending all accounts related to Greer.

But what is StateImpact? In 2010, NPR announced the reporting project as a way to inform residents of how state government works. It is funded in part by billionaire Soros, which Hicks' AgendaWise co-founder Greer had previously written makes it "not unlike ACORN." The national project is run in D.C. by former Texas journalists Elise Hu and Matt Stiles, both of whom, Hicks noted, used to work for the Texas Tribune, which has also received Sor­os cash. Soros? NPR? ACORN? Call Glenn Beck! So why were Empower Texans' Twitter accounts on AgendaWise's servers? Maybe because Greer is Empower Texans' former operations director.

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