Democracy Dies in Darkness

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Twitter calls foul on Rep. Marsha Blackburn ad because of 'baby body parts' comment

By Kyle Swenson

October 10, 2017 at 11:26 PM

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Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) released this campaign ad to launch her 2018 bid for Sen. Bob Corker's vacant Senate seat. (Marsha Blackburn For Senate)

This story has been updated.

If Rep. Marsha Blackburn was hoping for a big splashy launch for her U.S. Senate campaign — something that would fire a bolt of enthusiasm into the conservative base — Twitter has delivered.

On Monday, an ad meant to announce the eight-time Tennessee congresswoman’s 2018 bid for Sen. Bob Corker’s vacancy was censored by the social media platform, according to her campaign’s Twitter feed. Although the video is still on Twitter, the company is not allowing the campaign to pay to promote on the platform because of a controversial antiabortion statement included in the clip.

The campaign, however, is already trying to reposition the controversy to its advantage, and the issue comes just as the fault line between free speech and censorship has become highly combustible terrain in the political world, engulfing everything from speakers on college campuses to the National Football League.

Clocking in at just under two and a half minutes, the video features Blackburn introducing herself as a “hardcore, card-carrying Tennessee conservative.”

“I’m politically incorrect and proud of it,” Blackburn says, before diving into a short critique of the current makeup of the senate. “The fact that our Republican majority in the U.S. Senate can’t overturn Obamacare, or will not overturn Obamacare — it’s a disgrace,” Blackburn tells the camera. “Too many Senate Republicans act like Democrats or worse.”

The candidate then outlines her past accomplishments in Tennessee and Washington. “I am 100 percent pro-life,” Blackburn states. “I fought Planned Parenthood and we stopped the sale of baby body parts, thank God.”

This was where Twitter’s representatives reportedly called foul.

Blackburn’s Planned Parenthood comment refers to a now-infamous episode in 2015 when antiabortion activist David Daleiden released secretly filmed videos purporting to show abortion providers discussing the sale of fetal tissue for scientific research. The heavily edited clips launched investigations across 13 states and a House panel chaired by Blackburn. The representative and other lawmakers targeted Planned Parenthood, eventually recommending federal funding be pulled from the organization.

Related: [After release of covert videos with graphic descriptions of abortions, judge might hold activist in contempt]

But no investigation ever found proof of actual tissue sales. The only criminal charges stemming from the videos were filed against Daleiden and another activist in California for violations of privacy. Yet to this day, “baby body parts” remain a rallying cry in conservative and antiabortion circles.

On Tuesday, a Twitter spokesperson confirmed to The Washington Post “that promoted Tweets from @VoteMarsha were suspended for violating Twitter’s advertising rules. The account is not suspended, nor are the organic Tweets the account has sent containing the same video from the promoted Tweets.”

According to an email from the company to Blackburn’s representatives obtained by BuzzFeed News, the company took issue with a specific line. “The line in this video specific to ‘stopped the sale of baby body parts’ has been deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction,” the email states. “If this is omitted from the video it will be permitted to serve.”

The Blackburn campaign, however, has not backed away from the statement. Instead, the campaign says Twitter is trying to muzzle the candidate’s conservative message. Online, the candidate has urged supporters to join her in “standing up to Silicon Valley.”

According to the Hill, Blackburn also shot out a fundraising email on Monday about Twitter’s decision. “I’m being censored for telling the truth,” Blackburn wrote. “Twitter has shut down my announcement video advertising. Silicon Valley elites are trying to impose their values on us. When I talked about our legislative accomplishments to stop the sale of baby body parts, they responded by calling our ad ‘inflammatory’ and ‘negative.’”

Blackburn backers have begun posting this own messages online about the platform’s decision, including former White House spokesman Sean Spicer: “@Twitter continues campaign against @GOP.”

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Kyle Swenson is a reporter with The Washington Post's Morning Mix team. He previously worked at the New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Cleveland Scene.

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