Election Interference! Twitter Files Pull Back Curtain on Big Tech-Gov’t Censorship Campaign

July 11th, 2023 12:52 PM

The Twitter Files pulled back the curtain on a massive election interference campaign. Now, the House Judiciary Committee is set to grill FBI Director Christopher Wray and others about how the government colluded with Big Tech to censor Americans’ free speech rights.

Twitter owner Elon Musk shocked the internet when he released secret internal documents to certain reporters who uncovered how the FBI, a plethora of other government agencies and leftist elites colluded with Twitter employees to swing the election for Joe Biden and protect him in his presidency. As MRC Free Speech America Vice President Dan Schneider described it, “The FBI was conspiring and coercing Big Tech to do what it couldn’t legally on its own. They were censoring speech and silencing their political opposition.”    

The Russiagate conspiracy theory is the prime and overwhelmingly repeated example throughout the Twitter Files. Politicians, an astounding number of government agencies, journalists and NGOs tasked Twitter with finding evidence to further their unsubstantiated claim that a massive coordinated Russian influence campaign was working to promote former President Donald Trump and his allies. Nearly all involved began with the debunked conclusion that Russian accounts inevitably existed and that if Twitter could not find them, it was because Twitter was negligent, not that the mass Russian influence campaign did not exist. Yet, Twitter stayed silent. Time and time again, company staff found that most of the accounts accused of being Russian or Russian-linked were in fact Americans — oftentimes conservatives and other freethinkers — exercising free speech.

Over time, censorship requests became the norm, and Twitter, for the most part, did as it was told. Russiagate laid the groundwork for censoring the Hunter Biden “laptop from hell” as it too was labeled a Russian “hack-and-leak” operation. Russiagate also set the precedent for detailed networks of monitoring for so-called “problematic” accounts and requests to censor enormous numbers of users who disagreed with the official COVID-19 narrative. This thought-policing culture would later manifest in shadowbanning and the more visible censorship of accounts like: the Libs of TikTok account run by Chaya Raichik, podcast host and political commentator Dan Bongino, independent journalist Alex Berenson and former President Donald Trump. 

The damning evidence of what The Twitter Files journalists have coined the “Censorship-Industrial Complex” is staggering, but much of it would have remained hidden if Musk and a group of independent journalists had not released The Twitter Files. 

MRC Free Speech America offers a summary of the Twitter Files and the information they uncovered to date. “This summary is an indispensable tool for anyone who will be following the House Judiciary Committee interrogation of FBI Director Christopher Wray,” Schneider said. “This serves as a resource and road map for everyone trying to understand particular violations or the larger context of the Twitter Files.”

  • The Twitter Files (Part 1) set up Twitter’s bias and introduced censorship requests and the New York Post Hunter Biden censorship scandal. The first Twitter Files drop by Racket News founder Matt Taibbi set up the threads that followed, but at the time, he did not have a full picture of the government’s involvement in the censorship scheme. Taibbi noted alleged requests from the Biden campaign, the Democrat National Committee and the Trump White House asking Twitter to review users and specific tweets. Taibbi also exposed how Twitter reacted internally to the widely censored New York Post Hunter Biden scandal, with Twitter Communications employees even questioning why the platform censored the story and how to explain it to the public. “Although several sources recalled hearing about a ‘general’ warning from federal law enforcement that summer about possible foreign hacks, there’s no evidence - that I've seen - of any government involvement in the laptop story,” Taibbi tweeted. Later, Twitter Files part seven showed that the FBI laid the groundwork for censoring the Hunter Biden scandal. 
  • The Twitter Files (Part 2) revealed how Twitter shadowbanned users. Twitter executives for years publicly claimed that Twitter did not shadowban user content, but Twitter Files part two revealed that the platform simply renamed shadowbanning “visibility filtering” (VF). “It used VF to block searches of individual users; to limit the scope of a particular tweet’s discoverability; to block select users’ posts from ever appearing on the ‘trending’ page; and from inclusion in hashtag searches. … All without users’ knowledge,” The Free Press founder Bari Weiss reported. Part two also showed that many of these decisions were made manually by the platform’s Strategic Response Team - Global Escalation Team. According to Weiss, that team handled as many as 200 “cases” daily. The platform used these tools to blacklist prominent figures like radio host Dan Bongino, the popular account Libs of TikTok and Turning Point USA Founder Charlie Kirk, according to screenshots Weiss tweeted.
  • The Twitter Files (Part 3) detailed the platform’s efforts to shape the election narrative months before it banned former President Donald Trump. Taibbi indicated in Twitter Files part three that former President Trump had been consistently censored for election-related content in the months leading up to his ban. For example, Trump experienced visibility filtering, or shadow banning, “as late as a week before the election,” Taibbi reported. Taibbi further explained that high level Twitter employees like the former Twitter Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth “were a high-speed Supreme Court of moderation, issuing content rulings on the fly, often in minutes and based on guesses, gut calls, even Google searches, even in cases involving the President.” Taibbi also revealed for the first time that in 2020, Twitter executives met weekly with government agencies including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence.
  • The Twitter Files (Part 4) revealed that Twitter brass convinced former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to allow a Trump ban after the January 6 Capitol riot. Independent journalist Michael Shelleberger reported that Dorsey largely outsourced the decision to ban the leader of the free world to his high level staff, including: Roth and former Twitter Head of Legal, Policy, and Trust Vijaya Gadde. “On January 7, @Jack emails employees saying Twitter needs to remain consistent in its policies, including the right of users to return to Twitter after a temporary suspension,” Shellenberger wrote. Roth, however, persuaded Dorsey to accept permanent suspensions. Roth, seemingly gleefully, shared his success with his staff. “Around 11:30 am PT, Roth DMs his colleagues with news that he is excited to share,” Shellenberger added. “‘GUESS WHAT … Jack just approved repeat offender for civic integrity.’ The new approach would create a system where five violations (‘strikes’) would result in permanent suspension.” Shellenberger added that “The exchange between Roth and his colleagues makes clear that they had been pushing @jack for greater restrictions on the speech Twitter allows around elections.”
  • The Twitter Files (Part 5) made it clear that Twitter manufactured a reason to ban Trump. On the morning of Jan. 6, 2021 Trump tweeted that the “American Patriots” who voted for him would have “a GIANT VOICE long into the future” and that “[t]hey will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” Weiss highlighted that Twitter’s Trust and Safety team determined that former President Trump’s infamous tweets from the morning of Jan. 6 constituted “no violation of our policies at this time,” according to screenshots. However, “[l]ess than 90 minutes after” that determination, Gadde asked if Trump’s already approved tweets could still be “coded incitement to further violence.” Twitter’s “scaled enforcement team” suggested that Trump’s phrase “American Patriots” could be interpreted as meaning the Jan. 6 “rioters.” The “scaled enforcement team” then specifically and ridiculously painted Trump as “the leader of a terrorist group responsible for violence/deaths comparable to Christchurch shooter or Hitler.” An all-staff meeting two hours later failed to quell employees, and about an hour after that Twitter permanently banned Trump for alleged “risk of further incitement of violence.”
  • The Twitter Files (Part 6) revealed the FBI’s “constant and pervasive” contact with Twitter. Taibbi reported in Twitter Files part six that the FBI worked with Twitter “as if it were a subsidiary.” He explained that he found “over 150” email communications between Roth and the FBI between Jan. 2020 and Nov. 2022. “[A] surprisingly high number are requests by the FBI for Twitter to take action on election misinformation, even involving joke tweets from low-follower accounts,” Taibbi tweeted. He showed screenshots of multiple emails that the FBI sent Twitter with lists of accounts and tweets that the FBI claimed it “believe[d] are violating [Twitter’s] terms of service” or “may potentially constitute violations.” Another email details takeaways from a Government-Industry Sync meeting with the FBI, DOJ, DHS and ODNI. Senior Twitter legal executive Stacia Cardille claimed that in the meeting she asked about impediments to the government sharing classified information and was adamantly told that “no impediments to information sharing exist.” Taibbi also began to unveil the FBI’s and DHS's obsession with finding “Russian malign influencers” based on an “assumption” that these influencers would use “permissive” social media sites like Twitter. “The ubiquity of the 2016 Russian interference story as stated pretext for building out the censorship machine can’t be overstated. It’s analogous to how 9/11 inspired the expansion of the security state,” he wrote.
  • “Twitter Files Supplemental.” Taibbi explained in supplemental Twitter Files that Roth received written questions from the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF), grilling Twitter about why it had not found more propaganda on the platform. “The questionnaire authors seem displeased with Twitter for implying, in a [June 10, 2020] ‘DHS/ODNI/FBI/Industry briefing,’ that ‘you indicated you had not observed much recent activity from official propaganda actors on your platform,’” Taibbi wrote. He later added that “The task force demanded to know how Twitter came to its unpopular conclusion.” Internal Twitter emails indicate that Roth was “frankly perplexed by the requests here, which seem more like something we’d get from a congressional committee than the Bureau.” Roth also reportedly claimed that he was “not particularly comfortable with the Bureau (and by extension the IC [Intelligence Community] demanding written answers.” 
  • The Twitter Files (Part 7) exposed that the FBI “primed” Roth to censor the Hunter Biden laptop story. In Twitter Files part seven, Shellenberger reminded readers that the FBI had access to the Hunter Biden laptop as early as Dec. 2019. Yet, Roth claimed in a sworn declaration that in the intervening 10 months the agency showed him how to identify and extinguish a “hack-and-leak operation” that “would likely be disseminated over social media platforms, including Twitter” that was rumored to “involve Hunter Biden.” In July 2020, FBI special agent Elvis Chan, who had frequent email communications with Twitter executives, according to screenshots, arranged to give certain Twitter brass “Top Secret security clearances.” And by Sept 15, 2020, he met with then Twitter Deputy General Counsel and ex-FBI General Counsel James Baker. Baker would later be one of the most aggressive in pushing for Twitter to censor the Hunter Biden laptop story. Roth admitted the morning the story broke that “‘it isn’t clearly violative of our Hacked Materials Policy, nor is it clearly in violation of anything else,’” according to screenshots of an email tweeted by Shellenberger. “‘[T]his feels a lot like a somewhat subtle leak operation,’” he added. But Baker pressed for action. In a company comment thread, Baker wrote that he supported “the conclusion that we need more facts to assess whether the materials were hacked,” adding, “at this stage, however, it is reasonable for us to assume that they may have been and that caution is warranted.” Baker continually doubled down. He wrote in an email to Roth that he’d “seen some reliable cybersecurity folks question the authenticity of the emails in another way (i.e., that there is no metadata pertaining to them that has been released and the formatting looks like they could be complete fabrications),” according to screenshots tweeted by Shellenberger. Forty-five minutes after Baker’s email to Roth, Roth announced that Twitter’s official policy would be to censor the story on the basis of “consensus from experts monitoring election security and disinformation that this looks a lot like a hack-and-leak,” according to Shellenberger’s screenshots. As Shellenberger put it, the FBI “primed” Roth to make that decision. The Twitter Files (Part 7) additionally revealed that between October 2019 and January 2021 Twitter received over $3.4 million from the FBI’s reimbursement program. 
  • The Twitter Files (Part 8) showed the Pentagon asking for special favors: The Pentagon didn’t appear to explicitly ask Twitter to censor, but it did ask for special treatment, according to Twitter Files part eight. The Intercept journalist Lee Fang reported that Twitter “claimed for years” that it made “concerted efforts to detect & thwart gov-backed platform manipulation.” Yet, the platform apparently allowed the Department of Defense’s “vast network of fake accounts & covert propaganda” and even “assisted” in the Pentagon’s “[c]overt [o]nline [p]syop [c]ampaign.” Fang clarified that in 2017, a U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) official “sent Twitter a list of 52 Arab language accounts ‘we use to amplify certain messages.’ The official asked for priority service for six accounts, verification for one & ‘whitelist’ abilities for the others.”
  • The Twitter Files (Part 9) reiterated the massive number of government requests to censor that Twitter received: Twitter Files part nine highlighted that federal agencies “overwhelmed Twitter with requests, sending lists of hundreds of problem accounts” at a time, and content identified as “possible terms of service violation[s]." Taibbi added that “thousands of official ‘reports’ flowed to Twitter from all over, through the FITF [Foreign Influence Task Force] and the FBI’s San Francisco field office.” It soon became obvious to Twitter employees that the FBI had staff specifically looking for possible violative content that the platform could censor, according to screenshots of internal emails presented by Taibbi. Another screenshot indicated that Twitter had to “improvise a system for prioritizing/triaging them.” The Twitter Files part nine also began to reveal the great lengths the FBI went to support its baseless malign foreign influence theory. “The #TwitterFiles show execs under constant pressure to validate theories of foreign influence – and unable to find evidence for key assertions,” Taibbi wrote.
  • The Twitter Files (Part 10) revealed White House involvement in Twitter’s bias concerning its COVID-19 censorship policy. In The Twitter Files part 10, journalist David Zweig wrote that both the Trump and Biden administrations made requests that Twitter “moderate the platform’s pandemic content according to their wishes.” He cited that the Trump administration expressed concern about “panic buying” and asked that the platform suppress misinformation about “runs on grocery stores” at the beginning of the pandemic. As Zweig put it, “But . . . there were runs on grocery store[s].” The Biden administration, meanwhile, asked Twitter to censor information on treatments to COVID-19. In a December 2022 summary of Twitter’s meetings with the Biden White House, Twitter’s Head of U.S. Public Policy Lauren Culbertson wrote that “The Biden team was not satisfied with Twitter's enforcement approach as they wanted Twitter to do more and to deplatform several accounts … .” She added that “they were very angry.” Zweig also noted that while Twitter did not cave to all of the White House’s demands, it did censor using bots, decision trees and foreign human reviewers, not actual experts. In fact, the platform censored experts like Harvard epidemiologist Martin Kulldorff, who advised that children and those naturally immune to COVID-19 did not need a vaccine. 
  • The Twitter Files (Part 11) revealed how the intelligence community became involved in Twitter content moderation in the first place. Taibbi stressed that Democrats and the media pushed Twitter to find nonexistent evidence of malign Russian influencer accounts. He gave the example of a September 2017 Senate Intelligence Committee hearing during which Twitter explained that it had not found the massive numbers of Russian accounts apparently desired by the committee. Politicians like Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and failed Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reportedly responded with scathing criticism. Twitter then created a “Russia Task Force,” which after an apparently “exhaustive” investigation found very little evidence of coordinated Russian propaganda. One memorandum noted that the platform conducted “2500 full manual account reviews” and found “32 suspicious accounts and only 17 of those are connected with Russia, [sic] only 2 of those have significant spend one of which is Russia Today...remaining <$10k in spend.” But that did not stop legacy media from launching more baseless criticism citing a list of accounts Twitter investigated apparently leaked by a committee member. “Twitter was soon apologizing for the same accounts they’d initially told the Senate were not a problem,” Taibbi wrote. The platform later changed its content moderation policy to appease politicians and the leftist press. Publicly, Twitter claimed it censored accounts at its “sole discretion.” But internally, employees were told to censor “any user identified by the U.S. intelligence community as a state-sponsored entity conducting operations associated with U.S. or other elections,” according to a screenshot of internal Twitter communications Taibbi included. Three years after the 2017 policy change, the FBI could exploit that policy when it primed Twitter to censor the New York Post Hunter Biden laptop story and framed it as a Russian “hack-and-leak” operation. [Emphasis added.]
  • The Twitter Files (Part 12) further showed how Twitter became “an overwhelmed subcontractor” for the U.S. government. Taibbi explained that the PR nightmare continued. “By 2020, Twitter was struggling with the problem of public and private agencies bypassing them and going straight to the media with lists of suspect accounts,” Taibbi wrote. Two such groups included the State Department’s Global Engagement Center and the Clemson University Media Forensics Hub, both of which, according to Taibbi, were fishing for evidence of alleged Russian disinformation on Twitter. Taibbi also introduced new government agencies connected to Twitter in part 12. “Twitter was taking requests from every conceivable government body, beginning with the Senate Intel Committee (SSCI), which seemed to need reassurance Twitter was taking FBI direction,” he wrote, later adding that “Requests arrived and were escalated from all over: from Treasury, the NSA, virtually every state, the HHS, from the FBI and DHS, and more.” For example, some requests claimed concern over alleged Russian-connected accounts “committing cyber ops, from Africa to South America to the U.S.” Other requests referred to “publicity surrounding a book by former Ukraine prosecutor Viktor Shokhin,” who alleged corruption by President Joe Biden. One instance shows that House Intel Committee chief Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) asked Twitter to ban RealClear Investigations reporter Paul Sperry. In that case, Twitter refused. Taibbi also reiterated that the U.S. government paid Twitter “$3,415,323, essentially for being an overwhelmed subcontractor.” He added, however, that “[f]or the amount of work they did for government, they were underpaid.”
  • The Twitter Files (Part 13) alleged a conflict of interest between Pfizer and Twitter. Former New York Times journalist Alex Berenson, known for his reporting on COVID-19, tweeted that even Pfizer board member and former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb made a COVID-19-related censorship request. Gottlieb reportedly notified Twitter's Senior Manager of Public Policy Todd O'Boyle of a so-called “corrosive” claim that natural immunity “is superior to #vaccine by A LOT.” Berenson also noted that a Twitter Strategic Response analyst determined that “the tweet did not violate” the platform’s rules on misinformation, but Twitter placed a sharing restriction on the tweet anyway. Berenson went so far as to call Gottlieb a hypocrite. “In October 2022, @scottgottliebmd claimed on Twitter and CNBC that he was not trying to suppress debate on mRNA jabs,” Berenson tweeted. “These files prove that Gottlieb - board member at a company that has made $70 billion on the shots - did just that.”
  • The Twitter Files (Part 14) followed the continuation of Twitter’s struggle with politicians and journalists pushing the false Russiagate hoax. Taibbi noted that Russiagate came to a head in 2018. “At a crucial moment in a years-long furor, Democrats denounced a report about flaws in the Trump-Russia investigation, saying it was boosted by Russian ‘bots’ and ‘trolls,’” he wrote. Things began to heat up after then Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) submitted a classified memorandum that debunked the infamous Steele Dossier on January 18th, 2018, according to Taibbi. Sen. Dianne Feinstein  (D-CA) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) sent a letter to Twitter complaining that the Nunes memorandum sparked the hashtag “#ReleaseTheMemo.” They noted the hashtag as evidence that the memorandum “gained the immediate attention and assistance of social media accounts linked to Russian influence operations.” In a separate letter Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) claimed, “We find it reprehensible that Russian agents have so eagerly manipulated innocent Americans.” However, Twitter consistently found no Russia connection to #ReleaseTheMemo. “‘We investigated, found that engagement as overwhelmingly organic, and driven by VITs’ – Very Important Tweeters, including Wikileaks and congressman Steve King,” one internal Twitter email read. But Twitter’s findings didn’t seem to matter. The Democrat members of Congress and numerous leftist media outlets that later reported on the story all cited the same unreliable source, the Hamilton 68 dashboard. Taibbi described the dashboard as a tool “created by former FBI counterintelligence official Clint Watts, under the auspices of the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD).” The group was “vague” in explaining how it came to its conclusions, and even a Finestein staffer admitted that it would be “‘helpful to know’ how Hamilton 68 goes by ‘the process by which they decide an account is Russian,’” according to screenshots. The accusations soon formed a cycle of inquiries. “Execs eventually grew frustrated over what they saw as a circular process – presented with claims of Russian activity, even when denied, led to more claims,” Taibbi wrote. Yet “[d]espite universal internal conviction that there were no Russians in the story," Twitter was advised to give a rather political answer for its actions toward allegedly Russian activity on the app: “With respect to particular hashtags, we take seriously any activity that may represent an abuse of our platform.”
  • The Twitter Files Supplemental: The Twitter Files (Part 12) revealed that Schiff asked Twitter to censor journalist Paul Sperry, and The Twitter Files (Part 14) noted that Schiff, along with Sen. Feinstein, complained of the prevalence of #ReleaseTheMemo. The supplemental files show that Schiff made other demands of Twitter. “Staff of House Democrat @AdamSchiff wrote to Twitter quite often, asking that tweets be taken down,” Taibbi wrote. “This important use of taxpayer resources involved an ask about a ‘Peter Douche’ parody photo of Joe Biden. The DNC made the same request.” It appears that Democrats were angry primarily because Trump retweeted the picture, but fortunately, Twitter refused to remove the meme because it “clearly” had a “humorous intent [and] any reasonable observer could identify that it's doctored” as Roth noted. The platform also denied requests from Schiff’s staff asking for a sweeping removal of “‘any and all content about [Schiff aid] Mr. [Sean] Misko and other Committee staff from its service–to include quotes, retweets, and reactions to that content," along with complete suppression of “any and all search results about Mr. Misko and other Committee staff," according to a screenshot Taibbi shared. Twitter refused, but the platform did notably state that it deamplified so-called QAnon content.  
  • “[P]iece from the TWITTER FILES” by Lee Fang: The Intercept journalist Lee Fang uncovered the hypocrisy and double standard of accuracy when it came to information about COVID-19 on Twitter. “The global [big pharma] lobbying blitz includes direct pressure on social media,” he wrote. “BioNTech, which developed Pfizer's vaccine, reached out to Twitter to request that Twitter directly censor users tweeting at them to ask for generic low-cost vaccines.” Fang noted that, as in the case of accusations of alleged Russian-linked accounts, Twitter was very responsive to requests concerning COVID-19 vaccines and pharmaceutical companies. “Twitter's reps responded quickly to the pharma request, which was also backed by the German government,” he tweeted. But as in the case of requests related to alleged Russian bots, the requesters were often wrong about the origins of the accounts they wanted Twitter to nuke. “The potential ‘fake accounts’ that Twitter monitored for protesting Pfizer? These were real people,” Fang wrote. He added that “[n]otably, this massive push to censor and label covid misinfo never applied to drug companies. When big pharma wildly exaggerated the risks of creating low-cost generic covid vaccines, Stronger did nothing. The rules applied only to critics of industry.”
  • The Twitter Files (Part 15) uncovered how bogus Hamilton 68 instigated ‘digital McCarthyism’ and Twitter did not have the guts to warn the public. Alliance Securing Democracy’s (ASD) Hamilton 68 dashboard, as Tabbi put it, was “a digital ‘dashboard’ that claimed to track Russian influence and was the source of hundreds if not thousands of mainstream print and TV news stories in the Trump years.” The site reportedly claimed “Russian bots were ‘amplifying’ an endless parade of social media causes” and were connected to “terms like ‘deep state’ or hashtags like #FireMcMaster, #SchumerShutdown, #WalkAway, #ReleaseTheMemo, #AlabamaSenateRace, and #ParklandShooting, among many others.” The group refused to release its list of over 600 accounts “linked” to “Russian influence activities” because the outlet claimed, “the Russians will simply shut [the accounts] down," according to Taibbi. Roth, however, was reportedly able to reverse-engineer the list using Twitter data requests. In an email to his colleagues, he explained his findings: “The dashboard includes 64[4] accounts (as opposed to the 600 they claim),” he wrote according to screenshots. He continued, “The selection of accounts is... bizarre, and seemingly quite arbitrary. They appear to strongly preference pro-Trump accounts (which they use to assert that Russia is expressing a preference for Trump.... even though there's not good evidence that any of the accounts are or are not actually Russian.” Even as an “ardent Democratic partisan” Roth showed concern that Hamilton 68’s wildly inaccurate ways of identifying Russian accounts, was “leading people to assert that any right-leaning content is propaganda by Russian bots (because Ham68 said so.)” Screenshots of another email show Roth arguing that the evidence does not show that the accounts were even bots. “It was a scam,” Taibbi summarized. “Instead of tracking how ‘Russia’ influenced American attitudes, Hamilton 68 simply collected a handful of mostly real, mostly American accounts, and described their organic conversations as Russian scheming.” It appears that Roth advised that Twitter give Alliance Securing Democracy (ASD) and its Hamilton 68 dashboard an ultimatum for its false reporting, “either you release the list, or we will,” he wrote, according to screenshots of an email discussion amongst Twitter executives. However, confronting ASD would require Twitter to admit that it had reverse-engineered the list, which could potentially be scrutinized. As one executive put it, “Until we have our own comparable (but high quality) analysis to point to publicly, though, we have to be careful in how much we push back on ASD publicly.” Twitter’s then public policy director, Carlos Monje similarly noted a need to “play the longer game here.”
  • The Twitter Files (Part 16) revealed new election interference censorship requests from D.C. officials. Taibbi uncovered yet another major censorship request made by members of Congress. Sen. Angus King (D-ME) reportedly asked Twitter to remove 354 Twitter accounts in 2018, according to screenshots. Taibbi provided the list, which included accounts followed, retweeted or liked by his opponent and tweets that showed “Anti-King” sentiment or that mentioned him presumably in a disfavorable way. Taibbi also mentioned State Department official, Mark Lenzi, who reportedly notified Twitter of 14 allegedly “Russian controlled accounts” that he claimed the platform “will want to look into and delete.” Taibbi summarized the ridiculous situation: “A government official, writing from a State Department email, asks to ‘delete’ 14 accounts that are engaged in legit speech and for which no evidence is shown they're Russian controlled or bots (in fact, we at Racket know some of these people). A clear First Amendment issue.”
  • The Twitter Files (Part 17) uncovered more Twitter blacklists and ‘digital McCarthyism’ from the Atlantic Council, Global Engagement Center and New Knowledge. Taibbi reported that “On June 8, 2021, an analyst at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab [DFRLab] wrote to Twitter: ‘Hi guys. Attached you will find a spreadsheet of around 40k Twitter accounts that our researchers suspect are engaging in inauthentic behavior in support of the [Bharatiya Janata Party of India] BJP and Hindu nationalism more broadly.’” The Atlantic Council reportedly suspected those accounts of being “‘paid employees or possibly volunteers’” of India’s BJP. The problem, Taibbi identified, was that the list “was full of ordinary Americans, many with no connection to India and no clue about Indian politics.” The State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) was no better. Taibbi described one list the GEC sent Twitter that allegedly included a list of “5500 names” that GEC “believed were ‘Chinese… accounts’ engaged in ‘state-backed coordinated manipulation.’” But as Taibbi put it, “it takes about negative ten seconds to find non-Chinese figures” as the so-called Chinese list “included multiple Western government accounts and at least three CNN employees based abroad.” Even Twitter’s Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth called it “[a] total crock.” GEC’s 2020 “Russian Pillars of Disinformation and Propaganda” report similarly posited that there was an “ecosystem” of Russian-linked accounts. But Twitter executives could see through GEC’s inaccuracy. Taibbi shared one Twitter executive’s explanation of GEC’s problem: “‘If you retweet a news source linked to Russia, you become Russia-linked,’ does not exactly resonate as a sound research approach.” New Knowledge was another popularly cited Russia-obsessed organization included in Taibbi’s thread. Tabbi described New Knowledge as “the scandal-plagued company staffed by former NSA officials that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) hired to do ‘expert’ assessments of the initial batches of ‘suspect’ Facebook and Twitter accounts.” However, Taibbi noted, “Just like Hamilton 68, GEC and New Knowledge littered the media landscape with flawed or flat-out wrong news stories.” He added that “Americans in both cases paid taxes to become the subject of these manipulative operations.”
  • The Twitter Files (Part 18) named the alliance of NGO’s, government agencies and Big Tech companies that made up “The Censorship-Industrial Complex.” Taibbi began The Twitter Files (Part 18) recapping that Twitter had basically become a partner of the U.S. government who, along with leftist NGOs, sent lists of hundreds of accounts and tweets to be deleted. He later outlined what he called “The Censorship-Industrial Complex”: “We came to think of this grouping – state agencies like DHS, FBI, or the Global Engagement Center (GEC), along with ‘NGOs that aren’t academic’ and an unexpectedly aggressive partner, commercial news media – as the Censorship-Industrial Complex.” He further explained how the “incestuous self-appointed truth squad” did its work. “The same agencies (FBI, DHS/CISA, GEC) invite the same “experts” (Thomas Rid, Alex Stamos), funded by the same foundations (Newmark, Omidyar, Knight) trailed by the same reporters (Margaret Sullivan, Molly McKew, Brandy Zadrozny) seemingly to every conference, every panel,” he wrote. Taibbi named the GEC-funded Global Disinformation Index, The National Endowment for Democracy, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab, the Hamilton 68 Dashboard per the Alliance for Securing Democracy, the Election Integrity Partnership per the Stanford Internet Observatory, Aspen Institute, Graphika, New America Foundation and NewsGuard as organizations part of the “Censorship Industrial Complex.” He also pointed out that many of these organizations were “taxpayer-funded.” “The Woodstock of the ‘Censorship-Industrial Complex,’” Taibbi wrote, “came when the Aspen Institute held a star-studded confab and released a report on ‘Information Disorder.’” All segments of the complex came together for this report, Taibbi noted. “The report was co-authored by Katie Couric and Chris Krebs, the founder of the DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Yoel Roth of Twitter and Nathaniel Gleicher of Facebook were technical advisors.” The conclusions of the resulting report are disturbing. “Their taxpayer-backed conclusions: the state should have total access to data to make searching speech easier, speech offenders should be put in a ‘holding area,’ and government should probably restrict disinformation, ‘even if it means losing some freedom,’ Taibbi wrote.
  • The Twitter Files (Part 19) revealed that “The Great Covid-19 Lie machine” decided that “you can’t handle the truth.” In The Twitter Files (Part 19), journalist Taibbi exposed what he called “The Great Covid-19 Lie Machine,” which included tyrannical government agencies, the Stanford University’s Virality Project (VP) “and a slew of (often state-funded) NGOs” monitoring social media companies to censor COVID-19 content. Taibbi explained that “the Virality Project in 2021 worked with government to launch a pan-industry monitoring plan for Covid-related content. At least six major Internet platforms were ‘onboarded’ to the same JIRA ticketing system, daily sending millions of items for review.” Twitter was one of those social media platforms. The group worked with the Office of the Surgeon General and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to censor content that was “true” at the time it was censored–not merely in retrospect. One revealing VP memorandum showed the group advising Twitter to censor “True content which might promote vaccine hesitancy" such as "stories of true vaccine side effects."  VP, Twitter and the U.S. health authorities reportedly worked to suppress content that promoted natural immunity, critiqued the COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine passports or pointed out breakthrough cases of COVID-19 in those that had received a vaccine for the virus. Taibbi shared a screenshot of one instance where VP even equated “just asking questions” with “a tactic commonly used by spreaders of misinformation." He also noted that VP was wrong to the very end. “Even in its final report, VP claimed it was misinformation to suggest the vaccine does not prevent transmission, or that governments are planning to introduce vaccine passports. Both things turned out to be true,” he wrote. The examples go on and on, but Taibbi summarized the central principle of VP’s operation and work with Twitter: “The Virality Project was specifically not based on ‘assertions of fact,’ but public submission to authority, acceptance of narrative, and pronouncements by figures like Anthony Fauci. The project's central/animating concept was, ‘You can't handle the truth.’”
  • The Twitter Files (Part 20) showed the “uncanny alliance of academics, journalists, intelligence operatives, military personnel, government bureaucrats, NGO workers and more.” Former Executive Director of EngageMedia Andrew Lowenthal demonstrated in The Twitter Files (Part 20) how enmeshed academics, journalists, government workers and tech executives actually were. “In a functioning democracy there’s dynamic tension between government, civil society organizations, news media, and industry, all advancing their own interests, in theory keeping one another honest. In the #TwitterFiles we find them all working together, cartel-style,” Lowenthal wrote. He noted that “The Files show an uncanny alliance of academics, journalists, intelligence operatives, military personnel, government bureaucrats, NGO workers and more.” Perhaps the most shocking example of this was the Aspen Institute’s “confidential” “Hack-and-Dump Working Group,” which appeared to be a brainstorming drill on how best to interfere in the 2020 election, should bad news come out about Hunter Biden. “The Aspen Institute combined WaPo, NYT, Rollingstone, NBC, CNN, Twitter, Facebook, Stanford, and ‘anti-disinfo’ NGOs like FirstDraft to practice an oddly prescient ‘hack and leak’ exercise on the Hunter Biden laptop BEFORE its release,” Lowenthal explained. He noted that this was one of many workshops that were “off the record,” and that journalists kept quiet about. A screenshot of another email showed the sender, who’s name was redacted, inviting Twitter Global Government affairs team lead Nick Pickels to an “off-the-record workshop” that also featured “several European countries that will be sending along teams, as well as EEAS’s East StratCom, Hybrid CoE, NATO CoE, DHS, State Department and Congressional staff.” The Twitter Files also uncovered coordination between numerous Big Tech platforms across the tech industry, according to screenshots. One email showed Medium, Facebook, Microsoft [Corporate, External, and Legal Affairs (CELA)], LinkedIn and Pinterest working to set up a “real-time comms [Slack] channel during the election period,” an “Industry Internal Discussion” channel and an “Industry + FBI Broadcast” channel.
  • The Twitter Files (Part 21) unveiled Clemson University’s connection to Russiagate. The Twitter Files (Part 21) takes the reader back to the thick of The Twitter Files (Part 11) as the platform scrambled to find the Russian influencer accounts that government officials like Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) were looking for. “At first, Twitter was only able to produce 22 plus 179 IRA ‘linked’ accounts. Democrat Mark Warner called the numbers ‘inadequate on every level,’” YouTuber and independent journalist Matt Oralea wrote. “Twitter went back to the drawing board in an analysis project called ‘Osprey.’” Orfalea noted how Twitter was able to raise that number as it attempted to satisfy the Russian troll hunter organizations mentioned in The Twitter Files 12 and 18. “After Twitter's early attempts to identify Russian accounts resulted in such low numbers, they used different methodologies, tallying ever-increasing numbers of ‘Russians,’ from 22 to 201 to 2700 to 2,752 to 3,124 (in Osprey), & finally, 3,814,” wrote Orfalea. He explained that Project Osprey searched for “2 types of Russians”: "‘A Priori’ Russians - identified as Russian by outside researchers like QIntel” and “‘Inferred’ Russians (aka is_russian) - identified by algorithm tracking ‘signals’ like Cyrillic text or a Russian IP address.” Screenshots that Orfalea included in the Twitter thread show that Twitter looked for accounts “potentially connected to a propaganda effort by a Russian government-linked organization known as the Internet Research Agency” (IRA). Twitter reportedly used the “type of email carrier or retweeting history” to determine whether an account was an IRA account, but the determinations were highly unreliable. According to screenshots, Twitter’s former Vice President of Public Policy Colin Crowell similarly wrote in a 2017 email that the company made identifications based on “3rd party assessments” and should be “exceedingly cautious in asserting that any accounts are ones we know are IRA with certainty” since there was “‘no realistic way of knowing this on a Twitter-centric basis,’ apart from ‘educated guesses.’" One of those third parties was the Clemson University Media Forensics Hub, which The Twitter Files (Part 12) revealed pressed Twitter to find more IRA accounts and frequently went to the press without verifying its findings with Twitter. One of the Clemson professors involved in the program even claimed that “#Bloombergisracist could be a ‘Russian hashtag’ bc it started that morning from the account @drkwarlod that ‘live[s] somewhere in Asia’ bc it posts when Americans should be sleeping,” wrote Orfalea. It turned out the hashtag did not begin when the Clemson professor thought it did, however, and the alleged “Russian” account actually belonged to an American who happened to work the night shift. Internal emails among Twitter staff showed that this was not an unusual occurrence
  • The Twitter Files (Part 22) detailed how Twitter worked with the country of Turkey to censor speech long before Musk took over. Elon Musk took a lot of heat in May 2023 for acquiescing to censorship demands made by the Turkish government – something that many platforms have had to navigate, including YouTube and Wikipedia. “Twitter sought compliance with Turkey’s censorship demands long before @ElonMusk bought the company,” independent journalist Michael Shellenberger wrote. He noted a June 2021 email from then-deputy legal counsel Jim Baker to another Twitter senior legal executive. Screenshots of the email indicate that Baker said, “we need to: (1) agree to comply (as much as possible) with the 48-hour requirement (which I understand people think is achievable); and (2) agree to cobble together some Turkey specific transparency reports which will be short and perhaps not as comprehensive as they want at least initially.” Shellenberger wrote that Twitter’s law firm suggested that they fight the Turkish government’s censorship demands in international court. Shellenberger also noted that “Twitter transparency surpasses that of @Google & @Meta.” He pointed to the fact that Twitter has “released the Turkish court orders and the letter from the government regulator, demanding censorship,” something he said that neither “Facebook,” “Google” or “any other Internet company” has done. Shellenberger also noted that even “Musk’s harshest critics defend him” and his decision to work with the Turkish government. He wrote that “Musk hater Casey Newton” and colleague Zoe Schiffer wrote that the rationale for working with the tyrannical government is “fairly straightforward: it’s typically better for the cause of speech to have at least some content available." 
  • The Twitter Files (Part 24) revealed Taylor Lorenz’s attempts to get Twitter to censor other users: Thacker noted in The Twitter Files (Part 24) that Twitter suspended a user after the account posted about Lorenz’s background and age, the latter of which even Wikipedia doesn’t publish. Twitter staff found that the account had "no violations," was "generally healthy" and that there was "no action to be taken under majority abusive safety policies," according to the screenshot of a report tweeted by Thacker. The platform added that “From the Tweets flagged, we have not seen any personal identifiable information shared based on our the Posting Private information policy.” [Emphasis added.] The platform suspended the account, according to a screenshot tweeted by the user on Oct. 7, 2021 and recovered using archive.org. In another instance, Thacker revealed that “A month prior to that, Lorenz went after @DrJBhattacharya for tweeting an email by her friend and itinerant blogger @WalkerBragman. [Stanford professor of medicine Dr. Jay] Bhattacharya tweeted a harassing email Bragman sent him and it had Bragman's contact info.” Bragman doxxed himself by retweeting the information, but Lorenz notified the former senior partner manager for U.S. News at Twitter, Liriel Higa, on behalf of Bragman, according to a screenshot included by Thacker. The platform later locked Bhattacharya out of his account. 
  • The Twitter Files (Extra) by Andrew Lowenthal showed the outrageous COVID-19 censorship requests of the Australian government. Lowenthal wrote that The Twitter Files team found 18 emails from Australia’s Department of Home Affairs “collectively requesting 222 tweets be removed.” He added that “Jokes & true information were included in censorship requests, which came from the ‘Social Cohesion Division’ of the DHA’s ‘Extremism Insights and Communication’ office.” It seems the Australian government even attempted to have U.S.-based Twitter censor users living outside Australia including claims about COVID-19 that were later proven true. “DHA seemed to deem itself sovereign over the entire Internet, targeting non-Australians under the spurious logic that they were ‘circulating a claim in Australia’s digital information environment,’” Lowenthal wrote. Lowenthal also noted that Australia’s DHA even overstepped the scope of its already authoritarian aims. “In one case, they argued a post should be removed because a user claimed the government — specifically the Minister for Health — had used ‘emotionally manipulative language,’” he wrote. It’s unclear how many tweets the old regime at Twitter took action on at the behest of Australia’s DHA.
  • The Twitter Files (Part 25) revealed that Twitter lawyers and lower-level staff disagreed with the decision to ban Alex Berenson. Twitter banned independent journalist Alex Berenson in August 2021 after a string of restrictions related to his COVID-19 reporting the previous month. Berenson said he had the chance to see what happened inside Twitter after he sued the company and eventually won a settlement. He pointed to the timing of his ban, which occurred after the president accused social media companies of “killing people” for not expunging so-called vaccine hesitancy well enough. “Twitter's own lawyers believed the company could not successfully defend its Covid vaccine censorship policies against my lawsuit over its 2021 ban of my account,” Berenson wrote. Berenson also wrote that The Twitter Files intimate that Twitter settled with him because there was information it knew it could not defend in court. “Twitter restored my account and admitted I hadn’t violated its rules. But Twitter has never explained why it censored me,” he wrote. “The analysis its lawyers made suggests it did not believe it could convince a jury it could.” Berenson explained that after reading the internal email chains the lawyers described the conversation as “‘problematic’” and “‘sensitive.’” He added that “[the lawyers] recommended Twitter meet many of my settlement demands in the lawsuit to avoid handing them over.”

Contractor and former MRC Free Speech America Staff Writer and Researcher Catherine Salgado contributed to this report.

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