While serving as Arizona’s secretary of state, governor-elect Katie Hobbs played a role in the censorship of social media speech.
According to documents submitted as part of discovery in the case Missouri v. Biden, Hobbs’ office reached out to the Center for Internet Security (CIS), a nonprofit that acts as a mediator between government entities and social media companies, to request a “review” of Twitter posts claiming that Arizona’s voter registration system was owned and operated by foreign actors.
“This is an attempt to further undermine confidence in the election institution in Arizona,” stated Hobbs’ office.
Within 30 minutes, Twitter told CIS that it would “escalate” their issue with the posts. About seven hours later, Twitter notified CIS that it deleted the offending posts. The entire exchange took place on January 7 last year — the day after the Capitol riots.
“Both Tweets have been removed from service,” stated Twitter.
BREAKING: Email leaks reveal Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs was in regular communication with Twitter telling them who to censor pic.twitter.com/j7OsWpxoso
— George (@BehizyTweets) December 4, 2022
In the months following this exchange, revealed in court filings, Hobbs focused on publicizing her view of the danger that misinformation and disinformation pose.
“Lies, conspiracy theories, and disinformation pose a real threat to our democracy,” tweeted Hobbs last April.
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 alluded to her work in eradicating speech deemed misinformation or disinformation while on the campaign trail last September.
“I’ve fought against misinformation and even death threats to defend Arizona’s elections,” wrote Hobbs. “I’ll always fight the spread of misinformation and never back down from telling the truth. We can’t let the conspiracy theories win.”
While some elected officials in our state continue to promote falsehoods about the last election, I’ll always fight the spread of misinformation and never back down from telling the truth.
We can’t let the conspiracy theorists win. We need a change in leadership in Arizona.
— Gov-Elect Katie Hobbs (@katiehobbs) September 9, 2021
I’ve fought against misinformation and even death threats to defend Arizona’s elections.
Now I’m running for Governor, and one of my opponents is talking to Steve Bannon about decertifying the 2020 results.
RT to help us fight back & defend democracy.https://t.co/ThOUr6W3BI
— Gov-Elect Katie Hobbs (@katiehobbs) September 13, 2021
After the discovery of Hobbs’ intervention in social media speech went viral over the weekend, Hobbs’ team engaged with mainstream media outlets to counter the controversy.
Allie Bones, Hobbs’ assistant secretary of state and incoming chief of staff, shared a statement with various outlets asserting that it was the secretary of state’s job to not only inform voters, but to get rid of what they deem to not be the truth. Bones dismissed concerns about the government’s control over online speech, insisting that the CIS arrangement was the norm.
“One of the ways we [make sure that voters are informed] is by working to counter disinformation online that can confuse voters,” stated Bones.
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
Bones derided GOP leaders who called for an investigation into Hobbs, claiming that they were taking the speech monitoring arrangement out of context.
“This email exchange is from January 2021, as shown in the screenshot. Not only was it taken entirely out of context, it has nothing to do with this year’s midterm election,” stated Bones. “This is yet another example of conspiracy theorists trying to create chaos and confusion by casting doubt on our election system. It’s unfair to Arizona voters and it’s harmful to our democracy.”
+ a few other violations of State Law.
Read Full Letter⤵️ pic.twitter.com/gwgYnu0nrt
— Republican Party of Arizona (@AZGOP) December 6, 2022
Bones told Axios that “seeking the removal of verifiably false information is not silencing dissent.”
CIS operates as a middle man of sorts for government agencies or officials and social media companies.
Its Election Infrastructure Information Sharing & Analysis Center (EI-ISAC) operated a “Situation Awareness Room” to coordinate government and private companies concerning information dissemination and other “election threats” in the 2020 election. CIS noted in a 2020 report that it leveraged relationships with election officials and its past work in “correcting election misinformation” to create the communications hub.
“This groundbreaking single point of coordination for federal, state, local, and private partners allowed all relevant stakeholders to quickly review incoming information, establish ground truths, and respond accordingly to threats. […] The EI-ISAC served as the central hub for election officials to report misinformation about the elections infrastructure during the 2020 General Election. CIS leveraged the EI-ISAC to coordinate the communication of misinformation reports from election officials to federal partners, and social media platforms during the 2020 General Election. CIS staff worked with private and public partners to handle 209 cases of misinformation with a range of topics, sources, and social media platforms. The mis/disinformation program also provided the opportunity for election officials to correct the record on misinformation, or to cause the misinformation to be removed.” (emphasis added).
Further on in its report, CIS explained that it issued over 40 threat intelligence alerts and reports originating from them and the federal government to state and local election officials. In response, election officials would issue feedback to CIS. Then, CIS would pass on that information to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) — part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
“These disseminations addressed the range of phishing, exploitation, and misinformation threats faced by the election community in 2020, including the threat indicators needed to mitigate them,” stated CIS.
CIS noted that they established a permanent infrastructure to bridge communications between government and social media companies.
“The success of these efforts in the 2020 election established the foundation for expanded efforts on mis/disinformation reporting for future elections,” stated CIS.
CIS was uniquely positioned to handle both #cybersecurity and misinformation reports to protect the 2020 election infrastructure. View the 2020 Elections Year in Review now. #electionsecurity https://t.co/vx5cKQ5ulT
— Center for Internet Security (CIS) (@CISecurity) May 10, 2021
Contacts and funding to execute EI-ISAC’s mission are the least of CIS’ worries. At the helm of the nonprofit is a former top official for the Obama administration: John Gilligan. The president and CEO served as a senior intelligence and security advisor for the Air Force, Department of Energy, and White House Cyber Security Commission.
CIS works with all 50 states in over 2,900 election offices nationwide.
Since 2010, CIS has received over $196 million in federal grants. They also have received nearly $3.7 million in federal agency cybersecurity contracts since 2005.