The FEC unanimously rejected Matt Gaetz’s complaint against Twitter over an alleged 2018 ‘shadow ban’

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz looks at his phone in an empty hearing room.
Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images
  • The FEC unanimously rejected Gaetz’s complaint, which alleged Twitter had broken campaign finance laws.
  • Gaetz was accidentally “shadow-banned” in 2018 because his account was associated with other abusive accounts.
  • The FEC also said that Twitter can limit some users’ posts in order to assuage the company’s advertisers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Federal Election Commission unanimously rejected a complaint by Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida against the social media giant Twitter that alleged the company violated campaign finance regulations by “shadow-banning” the congressman in 2018.

Following a 2018 Vice report that Twitter had briefly subjected Gaetz and other Republican members of Congress to “shadow-bans” – limiting the visibility of their accounts on the website’s search results – Gaetz filed a lengthy complaint against Twitter to the commission in July 2018.

Twitter reversed the shadow-ban within 24 hours, later explaining to the FEC that Gaetz was caught up in an automated process by the company to improve discourse on Twitter because his account was “associated with other accounts that already had high indicia of misuse or abuse.”

All six commissioners ultimately agreed last month that there was “no reason” to believe Twitter had violated the law.

Gaetz’s original complaint alleged Twitter was “making an in-kind contribution to [Gaetz’s] political opponents” and failing to disclose outside spending by limiting the congressman’s reach, making a colorful analogy about “free billboards” to illustrate the point.

“Imagine the following: a billboard company in Florida wants to get involved in the political process, so it offers all candidates running for office… free billboards to promote their campaigns,” the complaint says.

“If the company did not randomly assign locations, but rather, offered large billboards in premium locations within the district to Democratic candidates, but only offered billboards stuck behind dumpsters, outside the district, to Republican candidates, it could not credibly argue that it was not giving an “in kind” donation to the Democratic candidates,” the complaint continues.

Gaetz’s complaint also claimed that Twitter was essentially a debate platform, and was thus subject to the FEC’s regulation around political debates. “Twitter, as a self-identified news organization, and as a recognized debate platform, is a staging organization for candidate debates,” the complaint said.

But in rejecting the complaint last month, the commissioners pointed to a 2019 legal analysis by the FEC’s general counsel that was also applied to 2 other similar complaints, including one filed by white nationalist GOP congressional candidate Paul Nehlen and another by a supporter of Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania.

The analysis found that Twitter had legitimate commercial reasons to limit the Twitter accounts’ activity due to concerns about “divisive content” from advertisers, and that messages sent on Twitter are not a “debate within the meaning of Commission’s regulations” because such debates must include “face-to-face appearances or confrontations.”

Gaetz’s congressional office did not respond to a request for comment.

This is not the only complaint Gaetz has filed with the commission. In May 2020, Gaetz announced on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show that he was filing a complaint alleging that Twitter made an in-kind contribution to Former President Donald Trump’s political opponents by adding a fact-checking label to some of Trump’s tweets.

The FEC has not yet released its opinion on that matter.