In wake of Twitter ban on Trump, Huntington Beach city attorney finds his own account has been cleaned

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Days after social media giant Twitter deleted tweets from President Donald Trump and suspended his @realDonaldTrump account following the riot at the U.S. Capitol, one Orange County elected official awoke on Monday to find his own page had been deleted.

Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates took to Facebook to explain his bewilderment at reportedly having his Twitter account wiped clean earlier that day.

“I guess Twitter did me a favor,” Gates wrote on his personal Facebook page, which is public. “It wiped my account of all posts — even though I rarely tweet. Sad state of society we live in. Sad.”


A personal social media account the 45-year-old Huntington Beach resident said he uses only a few times a month was suddenly bare, save for a profile picture and a prompt inviting him to leave a first tweet.

Kristopher Dreww and Michelle Peterson each posted since-deleted videos on social media. Huntington Beach Police Department interim Chief Julian Harvey said the police are aware of the two activists and would help the FBI with information if necessary.

Jan. 12, 2021

“Six or seven years of activity was completely gone,” Gates said Tuesday. “There was no warning, no notifications, nothing.”

The city attorney said he hadn’t recently posted anything inflammatory that would have justified an account deletion but had heard social media companies have been cleaning up accounts that convey controversial information.

“I never suspected mine would have gotten scrubbed. I’ve never posted anything controversial that I know of,” he said.

Twitter’s administrators on Friday announced Trump’s account had been permanently suspended following a Jan. 6 riot in Washington, D.C., claiming the president violated a glorification of violence policy. Five people were killed at the riot, while a Capitol police officer later committed suicide.

They cited two tweets that day, in which Trump said rioters “will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future” and clarified he would not attend Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony.

“Our determination is that the two tweets above are likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on Jan. 6, 2021, and that there are multiple indicators that they are being received and understood as encouragement to do so,” they wrote.

More than 6,600 people have signed an online petition demanding the resignation of a Placentia-Yorba Linda school board member who was present at a rally that led to the siege of the U.S. Capitol.

Jan. 12, 2021

While it is still unknown whether Twitter administrators may have deleted Gates’ account, at least one user shared a series of messages the city attorney had posted on Nov. 12 regarding the U.S. presidential election results.

A verbatim posting still visible on Gates’ Facebook page references claims made that same day by Trump via Twitter that ballot-counting software operated by Dominion Voting Systems had changed votes in President-elect Joe Biden’s favor. A second widely shared theory alleges a deep-state supercomputer, referred to as “Hammer,” also skewed results.

The two ideas have been roundly debunked by fact-checking groups and have not been upheld by any court ruling.

Gates — a member of the Orange County Republican Party and the Huntington Beach Republican Assembly — briefly referenced the theories in his own post.

“Almost any [unknown] plaintiff can run to any federal district court and have an injunction [court order] issued within 24 hours against the President to put an immediate stop to a border policy or travel ban for suspect nations … but the President of the United States isn’t running to any federal district court of his choice for a Writ of Mandamus or Injunction to order all States to audit and hand recount the ballots without the Hammer and Dominion software to verify that the count was accurate, or identify inaccuracies?” Gates wrote.

“Affidavits and computer forensics already show that software had problems — that’s the evidence for the court. Court order for recount without the software — Simple fix. Where are these lawsuits? Software counting problems shouldn’t be allowed — in any State. Voting is a civil right. The Government’s primary function is to protect our rights — get the count right!”

Gates clarified Tuesday he was simply questioning why the Trump campaign had not sought a judicial ruling calling for an audit and by-hand recount of ballots. Though he stands behind his comment, he acknowledged he’s drawn social media criticism before.

A post in June depicting Archangel Michael and asking followers to pray for the Huntington Beach businesses and police officers during the Black Lives Matter protests drew criticism. A practicing Catholic, Gates remained unfazed.

“If people want to be critical, they can be critical,” he said. “I will continue to live my life as I choose and express myself. I certainly don’t think it would be right for others to shut down my free speech.”

Although private social media companies have the right to impose their own community standards and terms of use, some free speech advocates expressed concern about the implications mass account deletions could have on the free exchange of ideas.

“There’s been a kind of widening circle of activity by social media giants to disable expression,” said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit advocacy group. “They wield extraordinary power over the political discussion in this country. [And] the widening scope of the deletion of accounts is cause for concern.”

Politicians, Snyder continued, are entitled to share sometimes controversial views in public with the understanding that consequences, good or bad, may be meted out at the ballot box. That some recent officeholders have fanned the flames of controversy and won their elections may be creating a model for others, he added.

Gates, who said he’s historically enjoyed support in the Huntington Beach community, has not contacted Twitter to learn whether his account may have been deleted or hacked. Either way, he said, it doesn’t matter.

“I don’t know why I am the object of such scrutiny,” he said. “I’m not the president of the United States or some high office — I’m just a city attorney. [But] I stand by what I’ve posted.”

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