Social Media

State Senator Ugenti-Rita Suspended From Twitter After Exposing Sexist Troll

Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Michelle Ugenti speaking at FreePac, hosted by FreedomWorks, in Phoenix.
State Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita is questioning the fairness of Twitter's policies after a local sports announcer was able to harass her for months from an anonymous account, while she was suspended just days after she revealed his true identity.

Even those bitterly opposed to Ugenti-Rita, a Scottsdale Republican who has pushed legislation critics say would make it harder to vote, agreed that the troll, Josh Miller, had crossed a line in his political criticism by hurling misogynistic abuse. For example, in a post that was less egregious than some, Miller spewed, “Resign you dumb nazi whore.”

Publicly exposed, Miller deactivated his Twitter accounts and resigned his 17-year gig as the in-stadium announcer for the San Francisco Giant's spring training. He had also been employed as an announcer at Desert Mountain High School, which has opened an investigation. Scottsdale Unified School District spokesperson Nancy Norman said that Miller had submitted his resignation Monday.

To Ugenti-Rita's surprise, when she logged onto Twitter on Monday morning she found that she had been suspended from the platform for posting Miller's personal information.

A screenshot Ugenti-Rita provided to Phoenix New Times shows that Twitter flagged a post that included a photo of Miller's Scottsdale Unified School District ID, which Ugenti-Rita copied from his Instagram. The notification says she violated the policy against posting a person’s private information without permission.

“I was surprised and I was disappointed to see Twitter again censor me when there didn't seem to be any effort to police accounts that were allowed to exist for months and months demeaning, promoting violence, (and) over-sexualizing people," Ugenti-Rita said.

Twitter policy says it's specifically meant to prevent doxxing — posting private details online as a way to intimidate or harm. The policy prohibits posting government-issued IDs, but does not consider where someone is employed private information.

Some online also speculated that screenshots Ugenti-Rita posted to show the connection between Miller's anonymous troll account and his personal Instagram account may have triggered the suspension as they appear to have a photo of his kid in them. However, those posts remain on Twitter.

Ugenti-Rita pointed out that everything she shared was something that Miller had already posted on his Twitter or Instagram.

"It was used to demonstrate that these accounts were linked," she said.

Reached on Monday, Miller said he hadn't seen that Ugenti-Rita had been suspended since he deactivated his accounts, but declined to comment further.

Ugenti-Rita questioned Twitter's priorities considering that Miller could post abuse for months yet she was suspended for calling him out.

"It's hard to believe that Twitter doesn't have an agenda," she said. "It seems arbitrary."

Ugenti-Rita has been an outspoken critic of some COVID-19 measures, including the governor's state of emergency. She suggested that Twitter may be more interested in pushing an "agenda" around COVID-19 than dealing with sexual harassment.

A portion of these complaints are common conservative gripes. Ugenti-Rita is only the latest on the right to complain that social media giants are not acting fairly, particularly after Twitter banned former President Donald Trump over allegations of inciting violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. This legislative session, Ugenti-Rita introduced a bill that would ban "government entities" from operating social media accounts.

While Ugenti-Rita is quick to point out that her bill predates the incident with Miller, she did concede that there is a connection between her concerns about tech companies censoring conservatives and what she sees as the arbitrary enforcement of Twitter's rules in this case.

Some other conservatives have also paid attention to her suspension. Kathleen Anderson, a far-right congressional candidate in Utah, drew more than 150 shares on a Facebook post about Ugenti-Rita's suspension. In the comments, many decried what they saw as left-wing censorship. Ugenti-Rita said she hadn't heard about Anderson's post until New Times asked her about it.

Tech companies have denied allegations that they are biased against conservatives. On the left, many have decried that it took a violent invasion of the U.S. Capitol for Twitter to take action against Trump. As part of the crackdown, Twitter also purged a wide-spectrum of QAnon accounts, leading a number of conservatives to claim they were being attacked due to their decreased follower counts.

A Twitter spokesperson acknowledged New Time's inquiry Tuesday morning but did not provide any further information by publication time.

After the Twitter purge, conservatives tried to move to Parler, a far-right Twitter alternative that was eventually deplatformed for not reigning in abusive content. Ugenti-Rita's Facebook shows that she encouraged her followers to join her on Parler in a January 9 post.

However, unlike some others, Ugenti-Rita has remained active on Twitter. Her most recent post before the suspension was about a Super Bowl commercial. Posts previous to that pushed for a return to in-person instruction and against COVID-19 mitigation measures.

Ugenti-Rita says she can return to Twitter if she deletes the flagged post and undergoes a brief suspension of her posting powers, but she's not ready to give in yet.

Update: Twitter responded just after publication:

“Thanks so much for your patience. ...We took enforcement action on the account you referenced in error. This has been reversed, and access to the account has been restored."

Asked to comment on the latest announcement from Twitter, Ugenti-Rita said: "I doubt Twitter would make such a public acknowledgment without my case drawing this level of public attention. My situation is the perfect example of identifying an account that should have been suspended and wasn’t while one that should not have been was. Leads one to wonder what the real purpose of this practice is.”