If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
For those that may not know, Twitter is a blogging platform that allows users to publish “tweets” limited to 280 characters. Twitter now has more than 396 million users, and after Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram, it is the fifth-ranked most valuable social media company.
After some back-and-forth difficulties earlier this year, Elon Musk, owner of both Tesla Motors and Space-X, was able to buyout Twitter for $44 billion. After the takeover, Musk pledged to release internal documents that would reveal how Twitter had engaged in free speech suppression under prior ownership.
The first installment of the Twitter Files begins with the October 2020 publication of a story by the “New York Post” entitled: “Biden’s secret emails: Ukrainian exec thanked Hunter Biden for ‘opportunity to meet’ Veep Dad.” The story reported on the contents of a laptop that had belonged to Hunter Biden, son of President Biden, that had been abandoned at a repair shop.
Emails and files found on the laptop revealed how the president’s son had peddled influence with Ukrainian businessmen, as well as a 12-minute video that showed the president’s son smoking crack-cocaine and engaged in sexual activities. As the story broke just prior to the U.S. presidential election, it could have had damning effects upon the Biden campaign, except for collaboration between the Biden campaign, and later, the FBI with Twitter, and probably other social media companies.
Included within the first Twitter File release was a request from the Biden campaign to review five tweets. The reply to the Biden campaign from Twitter was a simple “Handled These,” indicating that Twitter had censored the offending tweets.
Twitter then went on to label the “Post” article as “hacked material,” barring anyone from tweeting a link to it or sending it via direct message. The company also suspended the N.Y. Post’s account for several days. Despite the efforts to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story, most of the details would later be confirmed as factual.
The second Twitter File addressed what Musk and others have described as the shadow banning of some users, something referred to as “visibility filtering” by previous Twitter management. Screenshots showed employee views of user accounts tagged with “Trends Blacklist,” “Search Blacklist” and with “Do Not Amplify.”
The third installment presented documents showing that Twitter staff banned Trump not solely based on the tweets he made on January 6, but on the “context surrounding” Trump and his supporters’ actions “over the course of the election and frankly last 4-plus years.”
Additionally revealed was that Yoel Roth, then-head of Trust and Safety for Twitter, met weekly with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and even the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to discuss potential attempts to manipulate the 2020 election. Roth and Twitter Head of Legal, Policy and Trust Vijaya Gadde became a de facto “Supreme Court of moderation,” issuing content rulings on the fly.
The documents further revealed where Twitter staffers had expressed unease over whether it was safe for the public to know about their partnerships with the FBI or DHS.
The fourth installment covered how Twitter employees reacted to Donald Trump’s claims regarding the 2020 election and the conflict within the company about how to take action against Trump’s tweets or any Twitter users who supported the January 6 U.S. Capitol breach.
Cited was a screenshot where the head of trust and safety asked a coworker to blacklist terms associated with supporters of the January 6 attack. Other screenshots suggest that there were frequent instances where employees flagged tweets and applied strikes at their own discretion.
The fifth installment covered the conflict between Twitter employees and how it influenced the decision regarding Trump’s ban from the platform. Communications included requests from the FBI and other agencies to determine if a particular tweet violated policies against election manipulation. Two tweets that Trump made on the morning of January 8, 2021, were used as a foundation for his suspension: the first one praised his supporters at the ballot box, while the second announced that he would not attend Biden’s inauguration.
The two tweets were initially cleared with no indication of incitement of violence, but Vijaya Gadde; the former head of Legal, Policy and Trust; pushed back on the finding, writing: “the biggest question is whether a tweet like the one this morning from Trump, which isn’t a rule violation on its face, is being used as coded incitement to further violence.”
Twitter’s “scaled enforcement” agreed, suggesting that Trump’s tweets violated the “glorification of violence” policy and that the term “American Patriots” was a code-word for the Capitol rioters. The Scaled Enforcement Team came to view Trump as a “leader of a terrorist group responsible for violence/deaths comparable to the Christchurch shooter or Hitler,” and based on the totality of Trump’s tweets, he should be de-platformed.
CEO Jack Dorsey quickly approved a “repeat offender” policy for permanent suspension. One hour later, after receiving five strikes, per the new policy Trump’s personal Twitter account was permanently suspended “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
The sixth installment described how Twitter staff came to call the relationship between Twitter and the FBI a “government-industry sync,” as the FBI reported a number of accounts to Twitter’s Trust and Safety Team for allegedly spreading election misinformation. Many of the reported accounts had simply made tweets that were satirical.
The seventh installment provided additional details on how the FBI and the intelligence community interacted with Twitter employees. FBI Special Agent Elvis Chan primed Twitter to believe that stories like the Biden laptop story were tied to Russian hacking.
Twitter knowingly participated in a sustained effort by the intelligence community to share information beyond what a normal legal search would permit. Twitter’s own James Baker, who was the deputy general counsel for Twitter from June 2020 to December 2022, had previously served as general counsel for the FBI from January 2014 to December 2017.
The FBI even went as far as to give some Twitter leads a top-secret clearance to discuss supposed threats to the election. “As of 2020, there were so many former FBI employees working at Twitter that they had created their own private Slack channel and a crib sheet to onboard new FBI arrivals.”
As a whole, the Twitter Files thus far show that the FBI played a role in the suppression of a story that could have affected the outcome of the 2020 election and that as late as August 2022, Twitter was still collaborating with the FBI.
While social media companies have the right to moderate their platform, the FBI’s role in this rises to the specter of a violation of the First Amendment Right to Free Speech. With the mainstream media now indicted for pushing the discredited Russian hack spin of the Biden laptop story, most have chosen to either completely ignore reporting on the Twitter Files or to spin the information released as insignificant.
Regardless, the releases have prompted debate over the nature of blacklisting, vows for congressional investigation, calls for the full release of all documents, and calls to improve the content moderation processes.
My point in sharing all of this is for you the reader to now question every bit of news that you are fed, regardless of the source, and for you to demand that your elected representatives in our government act to reign in any manipulation of “We the People” by any of the assorted “alphabet” agencies.