Twitter continued its high-stakes game of whac-a-mole Thursday by suspending several accounts that were reportedly used to re-post the musings from the blog of former President Donald Trump, who is currently banned from the platform.
At least four of these high-profile Trump clones were locked down quickly after their creation, including @DJTrumpDesk, @DeskofDJT and @DeskofTrump1 and@DJTDesk, which had amassed several thousand followers before it went dark. It remains unclear if any of the accounts were affiliated with Trump or his inner circle.
"As stated in our ban evasion policy, we'll take enforcement action on accounts whose apparent intent is to replace or promote content affiliated with a suspended account," a Twitter spokesperson told the technology site Mashable.
It's a Sisyphean task that several technology experts tell Salon the platform can never truly accomplish — as soon as you ban one page reposting the former president's comments another five will pop up to take its place.
"There's no way these platforms can completely 'ban' someone — especially someone with such a public profile," said Scott Talan, a professor of communication at American University. "But that doesn't mean what they're doing isn't working, at least partially."
Jonathan Nagler, a co-director at New York University's Center for Social Media and Politics who has studied the effects of Twitter's previous interventions on Trump and other users, said the efforts do seem to be having, at least for now, a marked impact on the reach Trump is able to command.
"Absolutely, positively, when Twitter does a hard intervention, they are able to stop discussion of something very quickly," said Jonathan Nagler, a co-director at New York University's Center for Social Media and Politics. "They'll never really be able to [stop Trump's statements from being relayed] with 100 percent certainty, but if they can say 10 people, 100 people, even 1000 people saw something — versus a million, I think that's a win for them."
The escalating game of cat-and-mouse between Twitter and the numerous Trump clone accounts began when he introduced a new website earlier this week, called "From the Desk of Donald J. Trump," where the former president has begun to share Tweet-length thoughts which are seemingly meant to be reposted to social media, with prominently placed share buttons on the interface.
One recent note reads, "What Facebook, Twitter, and Google have done is a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country. Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States because the Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth, but the truth will come out anyway, bigger and stronger than ever before."
But when several accounts tried to share even partial posts from Trump's new "platform," they were met with a suspension for violating the terms of Trump's existing ban — though it appears users can still share links to the website as long as they do not include snippets of the text.
Facebook, for its part, told the Washington Post that it had already removed two accounts which falsely purported to represent Trump's new website — though it remains unclear what the company will do when users try to share the text of his posts. Facebook dealt another blow to Trump's online audience this week when its Oversight Board refused to allow him back onto the site, though the company will have to decide if it wants to make that decision permanent.
It's a new reality for the social media behemoths following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, which spurred both companies to institute the blanket bans on then-President Trump.
"He's been kicked off, but Trump still has powerful tentacles online," Talan said. "Moving forward, the companies are going to have to dedicate more resources and more staff to chopping off those tentacles. I don't really see another way forward."
Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the federal judge who gave prison sentences to two of former President Donald Trump's close allies — his 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort and veteran GOP operative Roger Stone — was highly critical of former U.S. Attorney General William Barr in a recent ruling, describing his response to the Mueller Report as "disingenuous." And legal expert Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general under President Barack Obama, described Jackson's comments as highly damning during an appearance on MSNBC's "Deadline: White House" this week.
Host Nicolle Wallace, a Never Trump conservative who served as White House communications director under President George W. Bush, told Katyal that Barr "misrepresented" the "conclusions" that Barr reached after former Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrapped up the Russia investigation — asking Katyal to weigh in on the "political damage" that Barr did to the United States. And he responded that it gives him no pleasure to have been right when he appeared on MSNBC in 2019 and said that Barr was distorting the Mueller Report.
The 51-year-old Katyal told Wallace and Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig — who also appeared as a guest — "I'm not sitting here feeling good about the fact that I and so many others were right two years ago. I mean, I desperately wanted to be wrong. And our system is set up to trust the attorney general. I mean, Barr was the attorney general of the United States, not the attorney general for President Trump. That's what he was supposed to be — he was supposed to be for the people. But unfortunately, there was always a degree of corruption around him, and he constantly acted like one of Donald Trump's personal attorneys."
Katyal continued, "And now, with the new decision by the judge into his deception, he's finally being treated like one of the gang — which he always was…. What you have in this decision by the judge yesterday — by Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is a meticulous judge — is a statement that no, Barr actually lied to the court and to the American people. She called, you know, Barr's actions, in the litigating position, disingenuous, which is something you almost never hear a federal judge say about any litigant — particularly not someone from the Justice Department and particularly not the attorney general of the United States."
Katyal added that when a federal judge of Jackson's stature describes one's testimony before Congress as "disingenuous," it's "time to start thinking about retaining counsel, legal counsel."
"There is the possibility of a criminal investigation into Bill Barr now," Katyal told Wallace and Leonnig. "There's also the possibility of civil and disciplinary actions against him as well."
Blundering right-wing provocateurs Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman — who became briefly notorious for their clumsy attempts to smear prominent Democrats with phony sex scandals — have somehow found a way to land themselves in even deeper legal hot water. On Thursday, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that her office had filed a motion to join a federal lawsuit stemming from Wohl and Burkman's racist robocall scheme targeting Black voters in urban areas ahead of the 2020 election.
According to a press release from James' office on Thursday, Wohl and Burkman allegedly reached around 5,500 New Yorkers with their deceptive calls, and thereby had "violated state and federal laws by orchestrating robocalls to threaten and harass Black communities through disinformation, including claims that mail-in voters would have their personal information disseminated to law enforcement, debt collectors, and the government."
The statement from the attorney general's office offered an example of what the robocalls told New York voters:
Hi, this is Tamika Taylor from Project 1599, the civil rights organization founded by Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl. Mail-in voting sounds great, but did you know that if you vote by mail, your personal information will be part of a public database that will be used by police departments to track down old warrants and be used by credit card companies to collect outstanding debts? The CDC is even pushing to use records for mail-in voting to track people for mandatory vaccines. Don't be finessed into giving your private information to the Man. Stay home safe and beware of vote by mail.
James went on to add in the statement that Burkman and Wohl "used misinformation to try to disenfranchise Black communities ahead of the election, in a clear attempt to sway the election in the favor of their preferred presidential candidate ... no voter should ever be subjected to such harassment or intimidation when exercising their fundamental right to vote."
Wohl and Burkman's legal counsel in Michigan, Scott Grabel and William Amadeo of Grabel & Associates, didn't return Salon's request for comment on Thursday regarding the new legal challenge. Burkman also didn't return numerous requests for comment.
When Wohl was reached for comment by Salon, he claimed he didn't know anything about the New York motion. "I don't have any comment on that," Wohl said. "I am not aware of it. I will have to get back to you."
A member of Burkman's family told Salon that [Burkman] "is just playing Russian roulette with the balance of his life."
A different individual close to Burkman who has worked at his property in Arlington, Virginia, put it more succinctly. "Lol, they are f*cked," that person told Salon, with "they" evidently referring to Burkman and Wohl.
Daily Beast reporter Will Sommer pointed out that if the pair is found liable in the federal lawsuit, James was positioned to collect nearly $2.75 million on behalf of New York state, with the duo potentially ordered to hand over all money earned from sending out their dubious robocalls to the government.
If the New York attorney general succeeds, Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman would owe $2.75 million, on top of their potential prison time in other states. https://t.co/kREKaaAp5q
— Will Sommer (@willsommer) May 6, 2021
James' office is also seeking the following relief, outlined in the Thursday press release:
- Prohibiting Wohl, Burkman, Burkman & Associates, and Project 1599 from further engaging or undertaking in harassing and discriminatory voter intimidation;
- Requiring Mahanian and Message Communications to establish policies and procedures to prevent unlawful, discriminatory, and intimidating robocalls directed at voters;
- Forfeiting all profits or payments made to the defendants as part of the robocall campaign; and
- Requiring defendants to pay a penalty of up to $500 for each violation of the state law prohibiting New Yorkers from being subject to any discrimination in their civil rights.
With more legal concerns crashing down on Wohl and Burkman, they must also fight legal actions stemming from the robocall scheme in numerous Midwestern states, including Michigan and Ohio, where both have been arraigned on felony charges, including several related to fraud. In an earlier appearance in court, while defending themselves without a professional attorney present, they admitted to the scheme.
Additional court documents that came to light last October shed light on Burkman and Wohl's motives and ambitions. "We should send it to black neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Richmond, Atlanta, and Cleveland," Wohl emailed Burkman on Aug. 25, 2020, according to The Daily Dot. Burkman responded to Wohl's email, writing, "I love these robo calls … getting angry black call backs … win or lose ... the black robo was a great jw [Jacob Wohl] idea."
Despite facing a tangle of civil and criminal charges, Wohl appeared blasé when asked multiple times by Salon if he was concerned about the prospect of millions in legal penalties and possible prison time. "Nope, there are still no legal concerns," Wohl declared with a chuckle.
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