Sen. Mitt Romney — aka Pierre Delecto — is far from the only Washington heavyweight who uses a private social media account.
Former FBI Director James B. Comey, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and, of course, disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner, who called himself “Carlos Danger,” sought refuge in private accounts.
When Mr. Romney came clean about his Twitter alter ego, it drew attention to the duplicitous habits of Beltway insiders.
Sure, the political influence of anonymous social media users from foreign countries has undergone great scrutiny in the aftermath of President Trump’s upset 2016 election victory. Far less attention was paid to the pseudonymous “lurkers” within America’s governing class.
Mr. Romney, a notorious “Never Trumper” Republican, used his secret Twitter persona to tweet comments to tout and defend his performance in the Senate and to disparage Mr. Trump.
Discovery of the Utah Republican’s secret Twitter use was made by cyber sleuth Ashley Feinberg, a blogger who picked up his trail after Mr. Romney tipped his hand in an interview with a reporter.
Ms. Feinberg previously outed Mr. Comey’s private Instagram account, formerly “@reinholdniebuhr” after Mr. Comey hinted at having both a private Twitter and Instagram account where he monitored social media chatter.
Former Rep. Anthony Weiner used Twitter to flirt with a woman online and later sported the moniker “Carlos Danger” to flirt with another woman in 2013, after leaving Congress. Weiner was released from prison this year, after serving a sentence for sending explicit photos of himself to a minor.
Justice Breyer began using a hidden Twitter account nearly a decade ago. He told the House Appropriations Committee in 2011 that he had set up a private account to keep tabs on the political unrest in Iran.
Those attempting to influence the U.S. government have noticed these developments.
It’s also created a back door to influence the high court, said Stanford Law School professor Jeffrey Fisher and William & Mary Law School professor Alli Orr Larsen.
“The open secret of Supreme Court advocacy in a digital era” is that the new way to argue in front of the justices is to reach them online via such avenues as blogs, podcasts, and social media posts, they wrote in the Cornell Law Review.
Mr. Fisher and Ms. Orr Larsen studied the Twitter habits of Supreme Court law clerks who help craft the justices’ decisions and thinking, and found the clerks’ social media habits had a definite impact.
“In particular, we show that the Twitter patterns of law clerks indicate they are paying close attention to producers of virtual briefing, and threads of these arguments (proposed and developed online) are starting to appear in the court’s decisions,” wrote Mr. Fisher and Ms. Orr Larsen for Cornell Law Review in 2019. “We argue that this ‘crowdsourcing’ dynamic to Supreme Court decision-making is at least worth a serious pause. … The confines of the adversarial process have been around for centuries, and there are significant risks that come with operating outside of it, particularly given the unique nature and speed of online discussions.”
Whether the social media use of such Twitter lurkers within government has necessarily altered the thinking behind judicial opinions, policy positions of lawmakers, or the investigatory actions of law enforcement are not fully knowable.
Twitter did not respond to questions about policymakers and public officials using pseudonymous accounts on its platform.
• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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