By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports
Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, is usually a reserved man. He speaks calmly and emphatically, even about issues over which he feels strongly, like abortion. But he’s known for his outbursts.
The same could be said for @SenDantheMan, a Twitter account with the District 5 lawmaker’s name, photo and a link to his campaign site. Most of the tweets were mundane, the sort you’d expect to see from a Republican politician in his 60s: A comment about how there will be a way forward for health care post-Obamacare, a retweet of Idaho State Police congratulating an Eagle Scout, support for the Second Amendment. Like many Idaho lawmakers’ Twitter accounts, @SenDantheMan went mostly silent after the 2017 legislative session.
On Monday, the account became active again, shortly after a taped verbal altercation between Foreman and a group of University of Idaho students went public. Whoever running the account sent a tweet to University of Idaho student Kim Scheffelmaier to “go talk about killing babies with Maryanne Jordan.”
Scheffelmaier had been among the UI students who had traveled from Moscow to Boise for Planned Parenthood’s lobby day, and wrote on her account that she and other students had planned on a 9 am appointment with Foreman to discuss birth control and sex education.
Foreman later said the account wasn’t affiliated with him, and on Monday night, tweets from the account itself claimed it had been a parody the whole time.
If the world of social media weren’t confusing enough, that series of tweets from the now-defunct Twitter account prompted an ethics complaint from Sen. Maryanne Jordan, as well as a discussion about civility, truth, and what you should and shouldn’t believe online.
On Tuesday, Foreman told Idaho Reports that he’s never had a Twitter account, despite mentioning Twitter use in a past interview.
In that May 2017 interview with CrossPolitic, a Christian podcast based out of Moscow, Foreman says he’d watched for whether churches would support his legislation that would criminalize abortion.
“When I was bringing my anti-abortion legislation to the forefront down in Boise, there was a grand total of zero churches that stood up,” Foreman said in the interview. “I didn’t get a single phone call, a text, a tweet, an e-mail, a letter, nothing.” That was the only reference to Twitter in the hour-long episode, though two of the hosts later tagged the @SenDantheMan account while promoting the show or engaging with him and other former guests.
When asked about that interview, Foreman said he didn’t remember that part of the discussion.
“If I said Twitter, I misspoke because I wouldn’t even know how to get on Twitter,” Foreman told Idaho Reports on Tuesday. Foreman does have both personal and campaign Facebook pages, though he updates those rarely.
“When it comes to social media, you’re looking at a Neanderthal. I don’t do that stuff,” he said.
Foreman declined to say whether he’d yet spoken to Jordan to clear the air.
There’s no question that Foreman yelled at the University of Idaho students on Monday — that interaction was caught on at least two cell phone cameras. Attacking a fellow senator, however, would add another level of gravity to Foreman’s actions.
Beyond the questions of civility, the @SenDantheMan dust-up raises broader questions of accountability for online communications. If the account’s claim is true — that @SenDantheMan was fake the whole time — then it’s yet another example of untrustworthy social media accounts claiming to be one thing and perpetuating lies. It also caused a significant amount of grief for both Foreman and Jordan, as well as members of Senate leadership tasked with investigating the claim.
And whether or not the account was Foreman’s, @SenDantheMan lays out a roadmap for public officials with unverified accounts to make bombastic statements, then claim the account wasn’t theirs. Regret what you’ve written? Just delete it and say you had no connection to it.
There’s no proof one way or another, but everything posted on the account through Monday indicated it was connected with Foreman.
Before the account was deleted, posts dating back to Feb. 2017 line up with Foreman’s political ideology, and include language that’s identical or nearly identical to what Foreman has said in interviews and in writing, such as “Murder is murder” and “abortion kills a precious living being.”
Some phrases were verbatim from Foreman’s website.
In another post, the account interacts with Twitter user @iamaroadtrip, defending Foreman’s anti-abortion legislation.
The dig at Maryanne Jordan was also specific. Both Jordan and Foreman serve on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, and sit right next to each other. Whoever wrote that either had an intimate knowledge of the Idaho Legislature, or got lucky and picked a random Senate Democrat who happens to be on a committee with Foreman.
There were no tweets that indicated it was a parody — no over-the-top ideological statements, no poking fun at Foreman or anyone else, and nothing taking advantage of other times Foreman has been in the news for controversial actions, such as yelling at a constituent at the Latah County Fair in 2017.
Backing away from controversy on social media isn’t uncommon for politicians. Most use some variation of the excuses “I was hacked” or “A staffer made that post.” In some cases, the politician was telling the truth. (Looking at you, “Me likey Broke Girls.”) In other cases, they weren’t.
And parody accounts aren’t rare, even in the relatively tiny #idpol and #idleg Twitterverse. But all of those known parodies are over-the-top and meant to make fun of their targets, affectionately or otherwise. Parodies, by their very nature, lampoon the subjects to make a political point. Along the same lines, they’re not meant to make audiences believe they’re actually real.
Nothing about @SenDantheMan was, well, funny. Nothing was ironic. Nothing posted before Monday would have been questioned as out of character for Foreman. Straight-up impersonations are more rare, but not unheard of.
While there are ways to compel Twitter to reveal who is behind anonymous, fake or questionable accounts, the bar for that is high. The social media platform usually errs on the side of user privacy. Last year, Twitter refused to comply with a federal request to reveal the user behind an anonymous anti-Trump account. Police can investigate who is behind Twitter accounts, but that’s usually reserved for extreme cases, such as assault or threats.
Dr. Jaclyn Kettler, associate professor with the School of Public Service at Boise State University, told Idaho Reports she had never seen a parody account that didn’t act like a parody, and one that shriveled and disappeared right at the time it was getting the most attention. Imagine spending twelve months working on a painting, then ripping it up as soon as someone looked at it.
“You’d kind of imagine this would be the best time for attention,” Kettler said.
Regardless of who is behind @SenDantheMan, the incident doesn’t bode well for Idaho’s already fraught political discourse. At least when someone is yelling at you in the halls of the statehouse, you know who is doing it.
Seth Ogilvie contributed to this report.