Tag: social media

The Other City Attorney Candidate’s Radical Tweets

By Clara Coyote

The Seattle City Attorney’s race has been dominated, thanks to recent mass mailings and a huge online ad in the Seattle Times, by criticism of left-wing candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy’s tweets. The Seattle Times, Q-13 FOX, and KOMO News (among many, many others) have taken the bait, framing Thomas-Kennedy’s online history as “reckless” “toxic” and “crude.” The tweets, most of them posted during the nationwide summer 2020 protests against police violence, are intentionally inflammatory, referring to police as “pigs” and “serial killers,” and celebrating damage to SPD’s East Precinct and the county’s youth detention center. Thomas-Kennedy addressed the tweets in a recent interview with PubliCola, saying she was “outraged” by the way police retaliated against protesters and repeatedly tear-gassed her neighborhood.

In comparison, Thomas-Kennnedy’s opponent, Ann Davison—who joined the Republican Party after Trump was elected and ran for state lieutenant governor on the Loren Culp ticket last year—has received relatively little coverage for her own social-media history, in which she has aligned herself with far-right figures like Ben Shapiro while referring to her own city as a lawless, “Marxist” hellhole where homeless people are allowed to “choose” a “lifestyle” that makes it impossible for housed people to sit on their porches.

Davison’s Twitter account  @NeighborsforAnn, which she has used in three successive bids for office, reveals a candidate with political views that are deeply out of sync with most Seattle voters.   

Last year, for example, Davison recorded a video conversation with Bradon Straka, a right-wing influencer for the “Stop the Steal” conspiracy theory and a recently convicted January 6th rioter, in which the pair encouraged people to leave the Democratic Party. Davison used her Twitter account to promote the event, which she described as “Bradon & I on a livestream talking about the far left takeover of the Democratic Party in Washington.

Davison embraced radical Republican positions during her run for lieutenant governor as well. During the early days of COVID, she argued for “local control” over mask requirements, railed against “cancel culture and Marxism,” trashed the centrist Washington Women’s Caucus as “extreme far-left” because they did not endorse her, and referred to Democrats as “Socialists” for waiving bar exam requirements for law students during the COVID crisis.

During a 2020 legislative debate over whether to require comprehensive sex education in Washington state’s public schools, Davison relentlessly promoted a far-right disinformation campaign against the bill, joining a nationwide right-wing effort to mischaracterize the legislation as an attempt to teach five-year-olds about sex using “graphic photos and descriptions of sexuality and sexual acts.” During the same period, she also promoted a conspiracy theory about homeless people being a “COVID threat” to housed people promoted by right-wing radio personality Jason Antebi (“Rantz”), frequently tagged far-right Youtube pundit Ben Shapiro and his outlet, the Daily Wire, and began regularly adding the hashtag “#republican” to her tweets and touting her support from Republican elected officials and pundits from across the state.

Perhaps more noteworthy for a city attorney candidate, Davison’s social media history shows her embracing Seattle Police Officer Guild President Mike Solan. Solan notoriously blamed the January 6th riots on the BLM movement, and publicly follows known white supremacists on social media. Davison, who posted a graphic of a Thin Blue Line flag at the height of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, featured Solan on her “After Homeschool” video series in May 2020. In the video, the two championed the reactionary statement that the “overwhelming majority of homeless people in Seattle choose that lifestyle.” 

Given her history of espousing right-wing talking points alongside conspiracy theorists, it’s not surprising that Davison has called state mask mandates an unfair “double standard” compared to the “lawless” existence of people living in homeless encampments.

Davison has portrayed herself as a centrist, middle-ground alternative to Thomas-Kennedy, but her own radical Twitter history suggests otherwise.

Draft City Policy Would Restrict Personal Use of Social Media, Bar Public Employees From Discussing Anything “Not Already Considered Public”

A proposed new rule governing City of Seattle employees’ conduct on social media would place new restrictions on what employees are allowed to say online, and would include not just full-time workers but anyone who contracts, works part-time, volunteers, or takes an internship at the city. The social-media restrictions would cover everything from harassment, doxxing, and expressing racist sentiments online (all reasonable restrictions for public servants) to anything that “negatively impacts the City of Seattle’s ability to serve the public,” a phrase that is undefined in the legislation and that does not appear in the Seattle Municipal Code.

The rule, which is modeled on (but is much more extensive than) the Seattle Police Department’s Code of Conduct for social media, would also prohibit city workers, contractors, and volunteers from disclosing or even discussing any city information that is either “confidential” (defined as anything that would not be disclosed through a public records requests, including policy drafts like the one I am describing) or “any information that is not already considered public.” Here’s that paragraph in full:

Unless a City employee is an authorized public information officer, an employee whose primary responsibility at the City is to communicate directly to the public on behalf of their department, employees shall not post or otherwise disseminate any confidential information they have access to or have learned about as a result of their employment with the City of Seattle, or discuss any information that is not already considered public without the prior consent or authorization of City department communications.

This restriction, interpreted liberally, would effectively ban all city employees from talking to the media unless explicitly authorized by a city public information officer to do so. The city’s whistleblower code only prohibits retaliation against employees who speak out about “waste[s] of public funds, unsafe practices and violations of law including violation of the City’s Ethics Code.”

Disclosing “confidential” information is already prohibited, although it happens routinely, especially in administrations that interpret public disclosure laws broadly—for example, by blacking out entire documents or simply refusing to provide them on the grounds that anything that isn’t already official policy or law is part of the city’s “deliberative process.”

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The ban on discussing anything that isn’t “already considered public” would be a broad expansion of this prohibition, effectively barring city employees from bringing forward concerns or information of public interest unless a department spokesperson answering to the mayor signs off on it in advance. Whistleblowers like the Seattle Silence Breakers, who brought forward stories about sexual harassment, assault, and gender discrimination within several city departments, might be less likely to come forward in the future if city policy explicitly bars them from discussing not just confidential information but any information that isn’t approved in advance by an official spokesperson for the city.

Shaun Van Eyk, the union representative for the Professional and Technical Employees Union, Local 17, which represents many city employees, says the proposed rule as written is “pretty far afield from anything we would accept.” He says the city has been quietly working on the rule for more a year, but he just became aware of it in the past two months.

Anthony Derrick, a digital advisor for the mayor’s office, says it’s “very common” for cities to have social media policies, and provided links to the policies for South San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City. None of these policies, however, included any details about city employees’ personal use of social media; rather, all three are about how city employees should operate the official social media accounts of city agencies.

Derrick did not respond directly to a question about what would constitute “any information that is not considered public,” and pointed to the whistleblower code and existing language barring the disclosure of confidential information in the city’s municipal code. “It goes without saying that anything we potentially implement in the future would not infringe upon employees’ freedom of speech or civil liberties,” he says.

The city had hoped to wrap up discussions about the policy with “representatives from nearly all departments” by the end of March, according to Derrick, but the COVID-19 outbreak has put those conversations on hold.