Over the weekend, Representative Marsha Blackburn launched her Senate campaign with a video that attempts to portray her as a tenacious underdog. It may not be immediately clear why a “hardcore, card-carrying Tennessee conservative” is at a disadvantage when Republicans control both Congress and the White House. As Blackburn explains, she stands with President Trump — on everything from building the wall to demanding that athletes stop protesting during the national anthem — in his battle against the Republican elites blocking his agenda in the Senate.
Blackburn has served in the House for nearly 15 years, so it’s a bit of a stretch for her to run on Trump’s “drain the swamp” message. But luckily for the congresswoman, Twitter gave her a better opponent than GOP elites when it blocked her campaign spot from Twitter ads. The social-media company objected to Blackburn’s claim that she “stopped the sale of baby body parts,” but said the video could run as a paid ad if the line was omitted. The decision does not prevent the original video from being posted by Blackburn and others on Twitter.
With battles raging on free speech, censorship, and social media’s role in spreading “fake news,” tech companies have been taking steps to show that they’re addressing the criticism. A Twitter representative said Blackburn’s promoted ad was rejected because the “baby body parts” line was “deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction.”
That makes it sound like Twitter objected because the line is upsetting to liberals, when the issue is actually that it’s false.
Blackburn says: “I’m 100 percent pro-life. I fought Planned Parenthood and we stopped the sale of baby body parts, thank God.” She’s referring to leading a House investigation sparked by the 2015 release of heavily edited videos that accused Planned Parenthood of profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. After spending nearly $1.6 million in taxpayer funds, the report produced by the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives last year made scientifically dubious accusations about the value of fetal-tissue research, and recommended that the government defund Planned Parenthood and enact other anti-abortion measures.
The sale of fetal tissue for profit has been banned under federal law since 1993, but abortion providers can be reimbursed for handling and shipping costs. Planned Parenthood denied the allegations, and a dozen state investigations found no evidence of wrongdoing. The only indictments stemming from the incident were against the anti-abortion activists who filmed the video, but those charges were eventually dropped.
Blackburn could argue that she worked to ensure that abortion providers are abiding by the 1993 law and pushed for even tighter restrictions. However, she neither proved that anyone was breaking the law by selling “baby body parts” nor enacted new fetal-tissue laws.
But since Twitter only objected to Blackburn’s line evoking “a strong negative reaction,” she was able to claim that she is being persecuted for her pro-life views. Her campaign Twitter account asked people to promote the video (for free), saying, “join me in standing up to Silicon Valley.” In a fundraising email to her supporters, she claimed “I’m being censored for telling the truth.”
Naturally, conservatives were quick to come to Blackburn’s defense, taking the opportunity to promote her video, revive the Planned Parenthood debate, and allege that conservatives are being silenced. The representative also got to repeat her false claim on Fox News, telling Brian Kilmeade, “Yes indeed, as chairman of the selective investigative panel, the work that our committee delivered stopped this practice of selling baby body parts. It’s something that people wanted to see shut down.”
If anything, Twitter has probably encouraged Republican midterm candidates to throw some unproven, inflammatory statements into the ads. Maybe they’ll luck out like Blackburn and earn themselves some free advertising and TV coverage.