Twitter temporarily suspended the account of Christina Pushaw, press secretary to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, on Aug. 20, 2021, for violating rules on abusive behavior after a series of her tweets incited harassment and online violence against an Associated Press reporter, according to the outlet.
Florida-based AP reporter Brendan Farrington published a story on Aug. 17, noting that a major funder of the DeSantis campaign invests in Regeneron, a COVID-19 treatment drug that DeSantis has promoted in Florida.
According to the AP and the Tampa Bay Times, Pushaw retweeted Farrington’s article and wrote “Drag them” in a now-deleted post.
AP reported that the press secretary wrote in another tweet that if Farrington didn’t change a story, she would “put you on blast.” She also retweeted a message that said “Light. Them. Up.” in reference to the AP.
Pushaw’s Twitter account was locked for 12 hours after Farrington tweeted that he had received online threats and hate messages about the story. He said: “For your sake, I hope government doesn’t threaten your safety. I’ll be fine, I hope. Freedom. Just please don’t kill me,” according to the AP report. According to the outlet Florida Politics, Farrington said he received death threats.
Pushaw denied trying to direct the governor’s followers to target the AP reporter. She said her “drag them” comment was social media slang and was not meant as a violent threat. She said she deleted it because she didn’t want it to be misinterpreted, according to the AP.
When asked for comment, Pushaw told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker: “Criticizing unethical and misleading reporting isn’t ‘harassment’.”
AP’s incoming CEP, Daisy Veerasingham, wrote to DeSantis saying the actions of the press secretary were “both dangerous and in conflict with Florida’s constitutional protections for freedom of speech and of the press.”
Veerasingham also wrote that this kind of harassing behavior can “cause great harm.”
DeSantis responded with an official letter calling the AP story “a false narrative” and the blowback “deserved.”
Brian Carovillano, AP’s vice president and managing editor, said: “This is not pushback, it’s harassment. It’s bullying. It’s calling out the trolls at somebody who is just doing his job and it’s putting him and his family at risk.”
The Tracker approached Twitter and Farrington for comments, but received no response. AP referred the Tracker to the published story.
Farrington’s tweets are now restricted, so the Tracker was not able to see his posts about the incident.