Mon. May 27th, 2024
Discussion and summarization includes all files released to date, Parts 1-12 (as of 1/10/23). All original information was taken from journalists’ Twitter feeds, as provided by hyperlinks in the main body of text.Discussion and summarization includes all files released to date, Parts 1-12 (as of 1/10/23). All original information was taken from journalists’ Twitter feeds, as provided by hyperlinks in the main body of text.

The Twitter Files Parts 1-15: A Comprehensive Summary, Analysis, and Discussion of Ramifications for American Institutions (updated 1.19.23)

Introduction

  • Elon Musk, after taking control of Twitter and firing most of its upper-level management (and many of its rank-and-file employees), promised to release internal documentation that illustrated the degree to which Twitter had shadow-banned and censored content from conservative-leaning sources.
  • To date (12-21-22), 10 file dumps have been released by journalists Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss, Michael Shellenberger, Lee Fang, David Zweig, Alex Berenson, and their various associates, after heavy analysis of documents provided by Musk and his inner circle.
    • It is important to note that these files are not open to the public other than what the journalists and authors decide to share, and that Musk is “vetting” the files before passing them along to these journalists.
  • Each of the below hyperlinks takes you directly to the official Twitter thread corresponding to the data dump in question, with the author’s name and the general topic highlighted in bold.
    • Each bullet-point is a direct quotation from the author, or a consolidated quotation. Editorial discretion was utilized to cut out extraneous or tangential information, and keep focus on the more extraordinary findings.

Quick Bullets

As shown in Parts 1 and 7, Twitter—primarily at the FBI and intelligence community’s urging—systematically suppressed the Hunter Biden laptop story. Initially, Twitter was resistant to the FBI’s probes and requests for information. However, over time, the FBI became deeply embedded within Twitter in terms of a revolving door of personnel, the granting of top-secret security clearances to Twitter executives, and the opening of myriad direct communication lines in which the FBI and other intelligence agencies could directly influence Twitter’s censorship activities. Central to this effort was former FBI general counsel James Baker—a well-connected and powerful member of the intelligence community—who until very recently was deputy counsel for Twitter.

As shown in Parts 6 and 8, the aforementioned synergies with the FBI/Intelligence Community/Department of Defense have been endemic within Twitter, as well as other social media companies. Taibbi goes so far as to call Twitter an “FBI subsidiary,” and the published evidence more than substantiates his claim. Moreover, Twitter has been heavily supporting the U.S. military’s covert operations overseas, creating AI generated deep fakes, developing false propaganda against foreign regimes, and whitelisting fake accounts operated by the intelligence community to spread disinformation and promote psychological influence operations, all in order to artificially instill popular support for foreign policy decisions—whether they be interventionist or oriented around retrenchment.

As shown in Parts 2 through 5, Twitter systematically censored free speech and blacklisted conservative / contrarian voices including Dr. Jay Battacharya, Dan Bongino, Charlie Kirk, Kayleigh McEnany, the popular “Libs of Tiktok” account, and President Donald Trump. Mechanisms for doing so included building large blacklists, preventing disfavored tweets from trending, limiting visibility of entire accounts and trending topics, blocking search results, limiting the scope of a particular tweet’s discoverability, among other insidious tactics.

As shown in Parts 3 through 5, which focus mostly upon the decision to ban Trump’s account, the political ideologies of Twitter employees and executives played a substantial role in decision-making. In 2018, 2020, and 2022, 96%, 98%, and 99% of Twitter staff’s political donations went to Democrats, respectively. The ultimate decision to ban Trump was based on no specific policy violation—in fact, many of the Twitter employees responsible for determining these policy violations clearly indicated no such violations occurred. Moreover, to truly illustrate the blatant hypocrisy of this move, Twitter did not de-platform other world leaders who much more clearly incited their populations to violence, including leaders from Nigeria, Ethiopia, India, Iran, and Malaysia. In a particularly telling excoriation of Twitter’s decision, jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny criticized the ban as “an unacceptable act of censorship.” Navalny would know, considering he has been one of the most heavily persecuted advocates of free speech in the world, and is currently serving out a ten-year prison sentence in a brutal Russian gulag.

As shown in Part 9, the FBI was hardly the only government agency actively weaponizing Twitter to serve governmental interests. The CIA, Department of Defense, and other security, military, and intelligence task forces consistently used their clout to censor information deemed adverse to their goals.

As shown in Part 10, Twitter–often after government coercion–suppressed any information that went against the established Covid-19 narrative, including posts and research by leading experts in their fields. Twitter and the CDC decided what “The Science” entailed. For anyone who does not understand what science is at a fundamental level: it is the means of discerning truths from gathered evidence via the scientific method. What it decidedly is NOT is a consensus-based ideology pushed and promoted by ministries of truth, that actively censor dissenting viewpoints. In fact, the whole point of science is to welcome alternative research and debate.

Parts 11 and 12 show how the intelligence community became so intertwined with Twitter, beginning with the aftermath of the 2016 election. Despite the outcry from the left that Russian interference and disinformation via social media had led to President Trump’s victory, Twitter found little evidence in support of this. Still, threats from politicians and intelligence agencies–who often threatened to go directly to major media outlets and bypass Twitter–forced Twitter to enter the content moderation game. They quickly became a subsidiary of the U.S. government, specifically the national security apparatus. Twitter was even directly paid over $3 million by the FBI for its services.

Part 13 details how former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and current Pfizer board member Scott Gottlieb used Twitter to suppress speech that he deemed adverse to his own interests.

Part 14 discusses how RussiaGate–universally proclaimed by the left as a primary reason Trump was unfit for office, and the basis for their investigation–was a complete hoax. And, Democratic congressmen knew this. Still, they pressured Twitter to push the false narrative, among many other media sources.

Part 15 discusses how the pharmaceutical industry, including the vaccine makers, used social media including Twitter to suppress any speech against vaccine policy, labeling it as misinformation, shadowbanning accounts and removing content.

See below for a section-by-section summary.

 

Part One – Taibbi –Hunter Biden Laptop Story Suppression

 

  • By 2020, requests from connected actors to delete tweets were routine. One executive would write to another: “More to review from the Biden team.” The reply would come back: “Handled.”
  • Celebrities and unknowns alike could be removed or reviewed at the behest of a political party:
  • This system wasn’t balanced. It was based on contacts. Because Twitter was and is overwhelmingly staffed by people of one political orientation, there were more channels, more ways to complain, open to the left (well, Democrats) than the right.
  • On October 14, 2020, the New York Post published BIDEN SECRET EMAILS, an expose based on the contents of Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop. Twitter took extraordinary steps to suppress the story, removing links and posting warnings that it may be “unsafe.” They even blocked its transmission via direct message, a tool hitherto reserved for extreme cases, e.g. child pornography.
  • White House spokeswoman Kaleigh McEnany was locked out of her account for tweeting about the story, prompting a furious letter from Trump campaign staffer Mike Hahn, who seethed: “At least pretend to care for the next 20 days.”
  • The decision was made at the highest levels of the company, but without the knowledge of CEO Jack Dorsey, with former head of legal, policy and trust Vijaya Gadde playing a key role. “They just freelanced it,” is how one former employee characterized the decision. “Hacking was the excuse, but within a few hours, pretty much everyone realized that wasn’t going to hold. But no one had the guts to reverse it.”
  • By this point “everyone knew this was fucked,” said one former employee, but the response was essentially to err on the side of… continuing to err.
  • Former VP of Global Comms Brandon Borrman asks, “Can we truthfully claim that this is part of the policy?”
  • To which former Deputy General Counsel Jim Baker again seems to advise staying the non-course, because “caution is warranted”
  • A fundamental problem with tech companies and content moderation: many people in charge of speech know/care little about speech, and have to be told the basics by outsiders. To wit:
  • In one humorous exchange on day 1, Democratic congressman Ro Khanna reaches out to Gadde to gently suggest she hop on the phone to talk about the “backlash re speech.” Khanna was the only Democratic official I could find in the files who expressed concern.
  • Gadde replies quickly, immediately diving into the weeds of Twitter policy, unaware Khanna is more worried about the Bill of Rights:
  • Khanna tries to reroute the conversation to the First Amendment, mention of which is generally hard to find in the files:
  • “THE FIRST AMENDMENT ISN’T ABSOLUTE” Szabo’s letter contains chilling passages relaying Democratic lawmakers’ attitudes. They want “more” moderation, and as for the Bill of Rights, it’s “not absolute.”

Part Two – Weiss – Twitter’s Secret Blacklists

 

  • A new #TwitterFiles investigation reveals that teams of Twitter employees build blacklists, prevent disfavored tweets from trending, and actively limit the visibility of entire accounts or even trending topics—all in secret, without informing users
  • Take, for example, Stanford’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya (@DrJBhattacharya) who argued that Covid lockdowns would harm children. Twitter secretly placed him on a “Trends Blacklist,” which prevented his tweets from trending.
  • Or consider the popular right-wing talk show host, Dan Bongino (@dbongino), who at one point was slapped with a “Search Blacklist.”
  • Twitter set the account of conservative activist Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) to “Do Not Amplify.”
  • Twitter denied that it does such things. In 2018, Twitter’s Vijaya Gadde (then Head of Legal Policy and Trust) and Kayvon Beykpour (Head of Product) said: “We do not shadow ban.” They added: “And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.”
  • What many people call “shadow banning,” Twitter executives and employees call “Visibility Filtering” or “VF.” Multiple high-level sources confirmed its meaning. “Think about visibility filtering as being a way for us to suppress what people see to different levels. It’s a very powerful tool,” one senior Twitter employee told us.
  • “VF” refers to Twitter’s control over user visibility. 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.
  • “We control visibility quite a bit. And we control the amplification of your content quite a bit. And normal people do not know how much we do,” one Twitter engineer told us. Two additional Twitter employees confirmed.
  • The group that decided whether to limit the reach of certain users was the Strategic Response Team – Global Escalation Team, or SRT-GET. It often handled up to 200 “cases” a day.
  • But there existed a level beyond official ticketing, beyond the rank-and-file moderators following the company’s policy on paper. That is the “Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support,” known as “SIP-PES.” This secret group included Head of Legal, Policy, and Trust (Vijaya Gadde), the Global Head of Trust & Safety (Yoel Roth), subsequent CEOs Jack Dorsey and Parag Agrawal, and others.
  • This is where the biggest, most politically sensitive decisions got made. “Think high follower account, controversial,” another Twitter employee told us. For these “there would be no ticket or anything.”
  • One of the accounts that rose to this level of scrutiny was @libsoftiktok—an account that was on the “Trends Blacklist” and was designated as “Do Not Take Action on User Without Consulting With SIP-PES.”
    • The account—which Chaya Raichik began in November 2020 and now boasts over 1.4 million followers—was subjected to six suspensions in 2022 alone, Raichik says. Each time, Raichik was blocked from posting for as long as a week.
    • Twitter repeatedly informed Raichik that she had been suspended for violating Twitter’s policy against “hateful conduct.”
    • But in an internal SIP-PES memo from October 2022, after her seventh suspension, the committee acknowledged that “LTT has not directly engaged in behavior violative of the Hateful Conduct policy.”
    • The committee justified her suspensions internally by claiming her posts encouraged online harassment of “hospitals and medical providers” by insinuating “that gender-affirming healthcare is equivalent to child abuse or grooming.”
  • In internal Slack messages, Twitter employees spoke of using technicalities to restrict the visibility of tweets and subjects.
  • [Yoel Roth] requested more research to support expanding “non-removal policy interventions like disabling engagements and deamplification/visibility filtering. The hypothesis underlying much of what we’ve implemented is that if exposure to, e.g., misinformation directly causes harm, we should use remediations that reduce exposure, and limiting the spread/virality of content is a good way to do that. We got Jack on board with implementing this for civic integrity in the near term, but we’re going to need to make a more robust case to get this into our repertoire of policy remediations – especially for other policy domains.”

Part Three – Taibbi – Trump Twitter Ban Prelude (Up to January 6, 2020)

  • As soon as they finished banning Trump, Twitter execs started processing new power. They prepared to ban future presidents and White Houses – perhaps even Joe Biden. The “new administration,” says one exec, “will not be suspended by Twitter unless absolutely necessary.”
  • Twitter executives removed Trump in part over what one executive called the “context surrounding”: actions by Trump and supporters “over the course of the election and frankly last 4+ years.” In the end, they looked at a broad picture. But that approach can cut both ways.
  • Before J6, Twitter was a unique mix of automated, rules-based enforcement, and more subjective moderation by senior executives…the firm had a vast array of tools for manipulating visibility, most all of which were thrown at Trump (and others) pre-J6.
  • As the election approached, senior executives – perhaps under pressure from federal agencies, with whom they met more as time progressed – increasingly struggled with rules, and began to speak of “vios” as pretexts to do what they’d likely have done anyway.
  • On October 8th, 2020, executives opened a [Slack] channel called “us2020_xfn_enforcement.” Through J6, this would be home for discussions about election-related removals, especially ones that involved “high-profile” accounts (often called “VITs” or “Very Important Tweeters”). There was at least some tension between Safety Operations – a larger department whose staffers used a more rules-based process for addressing issues like porn, scams, and threats – and a smaller, more powerful cadre of senior policy execs like Roth and Gadde. The latter group 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.
  • During this time, executives were also clearly liaising with federal enforcement and intelligence agencies about moderation of election-related content.
  • Policy Director Nick Pickles is asked if they should say Twitter detects “misinfo” through “ML, human review, and **partnerships with outside experts?*” The employee asks, “I know that’s been a slippery process… not sure if you want our public explanation to hang on that.” Pickles quickly asks if they could “just say “partnerships.” After a pause, he says, “e.g. not sure we’d describe the FBI/DHS as experts.”
  • This post about the Hunter Biden laptop situation shows that Roth not only met weekly with the FBI and DHS, but with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).
  • Examining the entire election enforcement Slack, we didn’t see one reference to moderation requests from the Trump campaign, the Trump White House, or Republicans generally. We looked. They may exist: we were told they do. However, they were absent here.

Part Four – Shellenberger – Trump Twitter Ban Prelude, Continued (January 7, 2020)

 

  • On Jan 7, senior Twitter execs: – create justifications to ban Trump – seek a change of policy for Trump alone, distinct from other political leaders – express no concern for the free speech or democracy implications of a ban
  • For years, Twitter had resisted calls to ban Trump. “Blocking a world leader from Twitter,” it wrote in 2018, “would hide important info… [and] hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.”
  • But after the events of Jan 6, the internal and external pressure on Twitter CEO @jack grows. Former First Lady @michelleobama, tech journalist @karaswisher @ADL, high-tech VC @ChrisSacca, and many others, publicly call on Twitter to permanently ban Trump.
  • As context, it’s important to understand that Twitter’s staff & senior execs were overwhelmingly progressive. In 2018, 2020, and 2022, 96%, 98%, & 99% of Twitter staff’s political donations went to Democrats.
  • On J8, Twitter says its [Trump] ban is based on “specifically how [Trump’s tweets] are being received & interpreted.” But in 2019, Twitter said it did “not attempt to determine all potential interpretations of the content or its intent.”
  • The *only* serious concern we found expressed within Twitter over the implications for free speech and democracy of banning Trump came from a junior person in the organization. It was tucked away in a lower-level Slack channel known as “site-integrity-auto.”
  • Around noon, a confused senior executive in advertising sales sends a DM to Roth. Sales exec: “jack says: ‘we will permanently suspend [Trump] if our policies are violated after a 12 hour account lock’… what policies is jack talking about?” Roth: “*ANY* policy violation”
  • What happens next is essential to understanding how Twitter justified banning Trump. Sales exec: “are we dropping the public interest [policy] now…” Roth, six hours later: “In this specific case, we’re changing our public interest approach for his account…”
  • The ad exec is referring to Twitter’s policy of “Public-interest exceptions,” which allows the content of elected officials, even if it violates Twitter rules, “if it directly contributes to understanding or discussion of a matter of public concern”
  • Roth pushes for a permanent suspension of Rep. Matt Gaetz even though it “doesn’t quite fit anywhere (duh)” It’s a kind of test case for the rationale for banning Trump. “I’m trying to talk [Twitter’s] safety [team] into… removal as a conspiracy that incites violence.”
  • “Facebook’s suspension of Trump now puts Twitter in an awkward position. If Trump does indeed return to Twitter, the pressure on Twitter will ramp up to find a pretext on which to ban him as well.”
    • And as @bariweiss will show tomorrow, that’s exactly what happened.

Part Five – Weiss – Trump Twitter Ban, January 8, 2020

 

  • On the morning of January 8, President Donald Trump, with one remaining strike before being at risk of permanent suspension from Twitter, tweets twice.
  • 6:46 am: “The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
  • 7:44 am: “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
  • After January 6, Twitter employees organized to demand their employer ban Trump. “There is a lot of employee advocacy happening,” said one Twitter employee. “We have to do the right thing and ban this account,” said one staffer. It’s “pretty obvious he’s going to try to thread the needle of incitement without violating the rules,” said another.
  • But the Twitter staff assigned to evaluate tweets quickly concluded that Trump had *not* violated Twitter’s policies.“I think we’d have a hard time saying this is incitement,” wrote one staffer. “It’s pretty clear he’s saying the ‘American Patriots’ are the ones who voted for him and not the terrorists (we can call them that, right?) from Wednesday.” Another staffer agreed: “Don’t see the incitement angle here.”
  • “I also am not seeing clear or coded incitement in the DJT tweet,” wrote Anika Navaroli, a Twitter policy official. “I’ll respond in the elections channel and say that our team has assessed and found no vios”—or violations—“for the DJT one.” She does just that: “as an fyi, Safety has assessed the DJT Tweet above and determined that there is no violation of our policies at this time.”
  • Next, Twitter’s safety team decides that Trump’s 7:44 am ET tweet is also not in violation. They are unequivocal: “it’s a clear no vio. It’s just to say he’s not attending the inauguration”
  • To understand Twitter’s decision to ban Trump, we must consider how Twitter deals with other heads of state and political leaders, including in Iran, Nigeria, and Ethiopia.
    • In June 2018, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted, “#Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen.” Twitter neither deleted the tweet nor banned the Ayatollah.
    • In October 2020, the former Malaysian Prime Minister said it was “a right” for Muslims to “kill millions of French people.” Twitter deleted his tweet for “glorifying violence,” but he remains on the platform.
    • Muhammadu Buhari, the President of Nigeria, incited violence against pro-Biafra groups. “Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war,” he wrote, “will treat them in the language they understand.” Twitter deleted the tweet but didn’t ban Buhari.
    • In October 2021, Twitter allowed Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to call on citizens to take up arms against the Tigray region. Twitter allowed the tweet to remain up, and did not ban the prime minister.
    • In early February 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government threatened to arrest Twitter employees in India, and to incarcerate them for up to seven years after they restored hundreds of accounts that had been critical of him. Twitter did not ban Modi.
    • But Twitter executives did ban Trump, even though key staffers said that Trump had not incited violence—not even in a “coded” way.
  • Less than 90 minutes after Twitter employees had determined that Trump’s tweets were not in violation of Twitter policy, Vijaya Gadde—Twitter’s Head of Legal, Policy, and Trust—asked whether it could, in fact, be “coded incitement to further violence.”
  • A few minutes later, Twitter employees on the “scaled enforcement team” suggest that Trump’s tweet may have violated Twitter’s Glorification of Violence policy—if you interpreted the phrase “American Patriots” to refer to the rioters.
  • Things escalate from there. Members of that team came to “view him as the leader of a terrorist group responsible for violence/deaths comparable to Christchurch shooter or Hitler and on that basis and on the totality of his Tweets, he should be de-platformed.”
  • Two hours later, Twitter executives host a 30-minute all-staff meeting. Jack Dorsey and Vijaya Gadde answer staff questions as to why Trump wasn’t banned yet. But they make some employees angrier.
  • “Multiple tweeps [Twitter employees] have quoted the Banality of Evil suggesting that people implementing our policies are like Nazis following orders,” relays Yoel Roth to a colleague.
  • Dorsey requested simpler language to explain Trump’s suspension. Roth wrote, “god help us [this] makes me think he wants to share it publicly”
  • One hour later, Twitter announces Trump’s permanent suspension “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
  • Many at Twitter were ecstatic. And congratulatory: “big props to whoever in trust and safety is sitting there whack-a-mole-ing these trump accounts”
  • By the next day, employees expressed eagerness to tackle “medical misinformation” as soon as possible:
  • Outside the United States, Twitter’s decision to ban Trump raised alarms, including with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, and Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
    • Macron told an audience he didn’t “want to live in a democracy where the key decisions” were made by private players. “I want it to be decided by a law voted by your representative, or by regulation, governance, democratically discussed and approved by democratic leaders.”
    • Merkel’s spokesperson called Twitter’s decision to ban Trump from its platform “problematic” and added that the freedom of opinion is of “elementary significance.”
    • Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny criticized the ban as “an unacceptable act of censorship.”
  • Ultimately, the concerns about Twitter’s efforts to censor news about Hunter Biden’s laptop, blacklist disfavored views, and ban a president aren’t about the past choices of executives in a social media company. They’re about the power of a handful of people at a private company to influence the public discourse and democracy.

Part Six – Taibbi – Twitter: “The FBI Subsidiary”

 

  • Twitter’s contact with the FBI was constant and pervasive, as if it were a subsidiary.
  • Between January 2020 and November 2022, there were over 150 emails between the FBI and former Twitter Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth.
  • Some are mundane, like San Francisco agent Elvis Chan wishing Roth a Happy New Year along with a reminder to attend “our quarterly call next week.” Others are requests for information into Twitter users related to active investigations.
  • But 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.
  • The FBI’s social media-focused task force, known as FTIF, created in the wake of the 2016 election, swelled to 80 agents and corresponded with Twitter to identify alleged foreign influence and election tampering of all kinds.
  • Federal intelligence and law enforcement reach into Twitter included the Department of Homeland Security, which partnered with security contractors and think tanks to pressure Twitter to moderate content.
  • It’s no secret the government analyzes bulk data for all sorts of purposes, everything from tracking terror suspects to making economic forecasts. The #TwitterFiles show something new: agencies like the FBI and DHS regularly sending social media content to Twitter through multiple entry points, pre-flagged for moderation.
  • What stands out is the sheer quantity of reports from the government. Some are aggregated from public hotlines.
  • “HELLO TWITTER CONTACTS”: The master-canine quality of the FBI’s relationship to Twitter comes through in this November 2022 email, in which “FBI San Francisco is notifying you” it wants action on four accounts.
  • Twitter personnel in that case went on to look for reasons to suspend all four accounts, including @fromma, whose tweets are almost all jokes (see sample below), including his “civic misinformation” of Nov. 8.
  • In an internal email from November 5, 2022, the FBI’s National Election Command Post, which compiles and sends on complaints, sent the SF field office a long list of accounts that “may warrant additional action.” Agent Chan passed the list on to his “Twitter folks.” Twitter then replied with its list of actions taken.
  • In a letter to former Deputy General Counsel (and former top FBI lawyer) Jim Baker on Sep. 16, 2022, legal exec Stacia Cardille outlines results from her “soon to be weekly” meeting with DHS, DOJ, FBI, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
  • The Twitter exec writes she explicitly asked if there were “impediments” to the sharing of classified information “with industry.” The answer? “FBI was adamant no impediments to sharing exist.”
  • This passage underscores the unique one-big-happy-family vibe between Twitter and the FBI. With what other firm would the FBI blithely agree to “no impediments” to classified information?
  • In this March, 2021 email, an FBI liaison thanks a senior Twitter exec for the chance to speak to “you and the team,” then delivers a packet of “products”:
  • The executive circulates the “products,” which are really DHS bulletins stressing the need for greater collaboration between law enforcement and “private sector partners.”
  • 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.
  • There were multiple points of entry into Twitter for government-flagged reports. This letter from Agent Chan to Roth references Teleporter, a platform through which Twitter could receive reports from the FBI.
    • Reports also came from different agencies. Here, an employee recommends “bouncing” content based on evidence from “DHS etc”
    • State governments also flagged content.
    • Twitter for instance received reports via the Partner Support Portal, an outlet created by the Center for Internet Security, a partner organization to the DHS
    • “WHY WAS NO ACTION TAKEN?” Below, Twitter execs – receiving an alert from California officials, by way of “our partner support portal” – debate whether to act on a Trump tweet:
    • A video was reported by the Election Integrity Project (EIP) at Stanford, apparently on the strength of information from the Center for Internet Security (CIS):
      • If that’s confusing, it’s because the CIS is a DHS contractor, describes itself as “partners” with the Cyber and Internet Security Agency (CISA) at the DHS
    • The EIP is one of a series of government-affiliated think tanks that mass-review content, a list that also includes the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Laboratory, and the University of Washington’s Center for Informed Policy.
  • The takeaway: what most people think of as the “deep state” is really a tangled collaboration of state agencies, private contractors, and (sometimes state-funded) NGOs. The lines become so blurred as to be meaningless.

Part Seven – Shellenberger – The FBI and the Hunter Biden Laptop Story

 

  • In Twitter Files #7, we present evidence pointing to an organized effort by representatives of the intelligence community (IC), aimed at senior executives at news and social media companies, to discredit leaked information about Hunter Biden before and after it was published.
  • The story begins in December 2019 when a Delaware computer store owner named John Paul (J.P.) Mac Isaac contacts the FBI about a laptop that Hunter Biden had left with him On Dec 9, 2019, the FBI issues a subpoena for, and takes, Hunter Biden’s laptop.
  • By Aug 2020, Mac Isaac still had not heard back from the FBI, even though he had discovered evidence of criminal activity. And so he emails Rudy Giuliani, who was under FBI surveillance at the time. In early Oct, Giuliani gives it to the New York Post.
  • Shortly before 7 pm ET on October 13, Hunter Biden’s lawyer, George Mesires, emails JP Mac Isaac. Hunter and Mesires had just learned from the New York Post that its story about the laptop would be published the next day.
  • At 9:22 pm ET (6:22 PT), FBI Special Agent Elvis Chan sends 10 documents to Twitter’s then-Head of Site Integrity, Yoel Roth, through Teleporter, a one-way communications channel from the FBI to Twitter.
  • The next day, October 14, 2020, The New York Post runs its explosive story revealing the business dealings of President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. Every single fact in it was accurate.
  • And yet, within hours, Twitter and other social media companies censor the NY Post article, preventing it from spreading and, more importantly, undermining its credibility in the minds of many Americans. Why is that? What, exactly, happened?
  • First, it’s important to understand that Hunter Biden earned *tens of millions* of dollars in contracts with foreign businesses, including ones linked to China’s government, for which Hunter offered no real work. Here’s an overview by investigative journalist @peterschweizer.
  • And yet, during all of 2020, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies repeatedly primed Yoel Roth to dismiss reports of Hunter Biden’s laptop as a Russian “hack and leak” operation. This is from a sworn declaration by Roth given in December 2020.
  • They did the same to Facebook, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “The FBI basically came to us [and] was like, ‘Hey… you should be on high alert. We thought that there was a lot of Russian propaganda in 2016 election. There’s about to be some kind of dump similar to that.’”
  • Were the FBI warnings of a Russian hack-and-leak operation relating to Hunter Biden based on *any* new intel? No, they weren’t “Through our investigations, we did not see any similar competing intrusions to what had happened in 2016,” admitted FBI agent Elvis Chan in Nov.
  • Indeed, Twitter executives *repeatedly* reported very little Russian activity. E.g., on Sept 24, 2020, Twitter told FBI it had removed 345 “largely inactive” accounts “linked to previous coordinated Russian hacking attempts.” They “had little reach & low follower accounts.”
  • In fact, Twitter debunked false claims by journalists of foreign influence on its platform. “We haven’t seen any evidence to support that claim” by @oneunderscore__@NBC News of foreign-controlled bots. “Our review thus far shows a small-scale domestic troll effort…”
  • After FBI asks about a WaPo story on alleged foreign influence in a pro-Trump tweet, Twitter’s Roth says, “The article makes a lot of insinuations… but we saw no evidence that that was the case here (and in fact, a lot of strong evidence pointing in the other direction).”
  • It’s not the first time that Twitter’s Roth has pushed back against the FBI. In January 2020, Roth resisted FBI efforts to get Twitter to share data outside of the normal search warrant process.
  • Pressure had been growing: “We have seen a sustained (If uncoordinated) effort by the IC [intelligence community] to push us to share more info & change our API policies. They are probing & pushing everywhere they can (including by whispering to congressional staff).”
  • Time and again, FBI asks Twitter for evidence of foreign influence & Twitter responds that they aren’t finding anything worth reporting. “[W]e haven’t yet identified activity that we’d typically refer to you (or even flag as interesting in the foreign influence context).”
  • Despite Twitter’s pushback, the FBI repeatedly requests information from Twitter that Twitter has already made clear it will not share outside of normal legal channels.
  • Then, in July 2020, the FBI’s Elvis Chan arranges for temporary Top Secret security clearances for Twitter executives so that the FBI can share information about threats to the upcoming elections.
  • On August 11, 2020, the FBI’s Chan shares information with Twitter’s Roth relating to the Russian hacking organization, APT28, through the FBI’s secure, one-way communications channel, Teleporter.
  • Recently, Yoel Roth told @karaswisher that he had been primed to think about the Russian hacking group APT28 before news of the Hunter Biden laptop came out. When it did, Roth said, “It set off every single one of my finely tuned APT28 hack-and-leap campaign alarm bells.”
  • In Aug, 2020, FBI’s Chan asks Twitter: does anyone there have top secret clearance? When someone mentions Jim Baker, Chan responds, “I don’t know how I forgot him” — an odd claim, given Chan’s job is to monitor Twitter, not to mention that they worked together at the FBI.
  • Who is Jim Baker? He’s former general counsel of the FBI (2014-18) & one of the most powerful men in the U.S. intel community. Baker has moved in and out of government for 30 years, serving stints at CNN, Bridgewater (a $140 billion asset management firm) and Brookings.
  • As general counsel of the FBI, Baker played a central role in making the case internally for an investigation of Donald Trump.
  • Baker wasn’t the only senior FBI exec. involved in the Trump investigation to go to Twitter. Dawn Burton, the former dep. chief of staff to FBI head James Comey, who initiated the investigation of Trump, joined Twitter in 2019 as director of strategy.
  • As of 2020, there were so many former FBI employees — “Bu alumni” — working at Twitter that they had created their own private Slack channel and a crib sheet to onboard new FBI arrivals.
  • Efforts continued to influence Twitter’s Yoel Roth. In Sept 2020, Roth participated in an Aspen Institute “tabletop exercise” on a potential “Hack-and-Dump” operation relating to Hunter Biden The goal was to shape how the media covered it — and how social media carried it.
  • By mid-Sept, 2020, Chan & Roth had set up an encrypted messaging network so employees from FBI & Twitter could communicate. They also agree to create a “virtual war room” for “all the [Internet] industry plus FBI and ODNI” [Office of the Director of National Intelligence].
  • On Oct 14, shortly after @NYPost publishes its Hunter Biden laptop story, Roth says, “it isn’t clearly violative of our Hacked Materials Policy, nor is it clearly in violation of anything else,” but adds, “this feels a lot like a somewhat subtle leak operation.”
  • In response to Roth, Baker repeatedly insists that the Hunter Biden materials were either faked, hacked, or both, and a violation of Twitter policy. Baker does so over email, and in a Google doc, on October 14 and 15.
  • And yet it’s inconceivable Baker believed the Hunter Biden emails were either fake or hacked. The Post had included a picture of the receipt signed by Hunter Biden, and an FBI subpoena showed that the agency had taken possession of the laptop in December 2019.
  • As for the FBI, it likely would have taken a few *hours* for it to confirm that the laptop had belonged to Hunter Biden. Indeed, it only took a few days for journalist @peterschweizer to prove it.
  • By 10 am, Twitter execs had bought into a wild hack-and-dump story “The suggestion from experts – which rings true – is there was a hack that happened separately, and they loaded the hacked materials on the laptop that magically appeared at a repair shop in Delaware”
  • There is evidence that FBI agents have warned elected officials of foreign influence with the primary goal of leaking the information to the news media. This is a political dirty trick used to create the perception of impropriety
  • In 2020, the FBI gave a briefing to Senator Grassley and Johnson, claiming evidence of “Russian interference” into their investigation of Hunter Biden. The briefing angered the Senators, who say it was done to discredit their investigation.
  • “The unnecessary FBI briefing provided the Democrats and liberal media the vehicle to spread their false narrative that our work advanced Russian disinformation.”
  • Notably, then-FBI General Counsel Jim Baker was investigated *twice,* in 2017 and 2019, for leaking information to the news media. “You’re saying he’s under criminal investigation? That’s why you’re not letting him answer?” Meadows asked. “Yes”
  • In the end, the FBI’s influence campaign aimed at executives at news media, Twitter, & other social media companies worked: they censored & discredited the Hunter Biden laptop story. By Dec. 2020, Baker and his colleagues even sent a note of thanks to the FBI for its work.
  • The FBI’s influence campaign may have been helped by the fact that it was paying Twitter millions of dollars for its staff time. “I am happy to report we have collected $3,415,323 since October 2019!” reports an associate of Jim Baker in early 2021.
  • And the pressure from the FBI on social media platforms continues In Aug 2022, Twitter execs prepared for a meeting with the FBI, whose goal was “to convince us to produce on more FBI EDRs” EDRs are an “emergency disclosure request,” a warrantless search.
  • In response to the Twitter Files revelation of high-level FBI agents at Twitter, @Jim_Jordan said, “I have concerns about whether the government was running a misinformation operation on We the People.”
  • Anyone who reads the Twitter Files, regardless of their political orientation, should share those concerns.

Part Eight – Fang – How Twitter Aided the Pentagon’s Covert PsyOp Campaign

 

  • Despite promises to shut down covert state-run propaganda networks, Twitter docs show that the social media giant directly assisted the U.S. military’s influence operations.
  • Twitter has claimed for years that they make concerted efforts to detect & thwart gov-backed platform manipulation. Here is Twitter testifying to Congress about its pledge to rapidly identify and shut down all state-backed covert information operations & deceptive propaganda.
  • But behind the scenes, Twitter gave approval & special protection to the U.S. military’s online psychological influence ops. Despite knowledge that Pentagon propaganda accounts used covert identities, Twitter did not suspend many for around 2 years or more. Some remain active.
  • 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 same day CENTCOM sent the list, Twitter officials used a tool to grant a special “whitelist” tag that essentially provides verification status to the accounts w/o the blue check, meaning they are exempt from spam/abuse flags, more visible/likely to trend on hashtags.
  • The CENTCOM accounts on the list tweeted frequently about U.S. military priorities in the Middle East, including promoting anti-Iran messages, promotion of the Saudi Arabia-U.S. backed war in Yemen, and “accurate” U.S. drone strikes that claimed to only hit terrorists.
  • CENTCOM then shifted strategies & deleted disclosures of ties to the Twitter accounts. The bios of the accounts changed to seemingly organic profiles. One bio read: “Euphrates pulse.” Another used an apparent deep fake profile pic & claimed to be a source of Iraqi opinion.
  • One Twitter official who spoke to me said he feels deceived by the covert shift. Still, many emails from throughout 2020 show that high-level Twitter executives were well aware of DoD’s vast network of fake accounts & covert propaganda and did not suspend the accounts.
  • For example, Twitter lawyer Jim Baker mused in a July 2020 email, about an upcoming DoD meeting, that the Pentagon used “poor tradecraft” in setting up its network, and were seeking strategies for not exposing the accounts that are “linked to each other or to DoD or the USG.”
  • Stacia Cardille, another Twitter attorney, replied that the Pentagon wanted a SCIF & may want to retroactively classify its social media activities “to obfuscate their activity in this space, and that this may represent an overclassification to avoid embarrassment.”
  • In several other 2020 emails, high-level Twitter executives/lawyers discussed the covert network and even recirculated the 2017 list from CENTCOM and shared another list of 157 undisclosed Pentagon accounts, again mostly focused on Middle East military issues.
  • In a May 2020 email, Twitter’s Lisa Roman emailed the DoD w/two lists. One list was accounts “previously provided to us” & another list Twitter detected. The accounts tweeted in Russian & Arabic on US military issues in Syria/ISIS & many also did not disclose Pentagon ties.
  • Many of these secretive U.S. military propaganda accounts, despite detection by Twitter as late as 2020 (but potentially earlier) continued tweeting through this year, some not suspended until May 2022 or later, according to records I reviewed.
  • In August 2022, a Stanford Internet Observatory report exposed a U.S. military covert propaganda network on Facebook, Telegram, Twitter & other apps using fake news portals and deep fake images and memes against U.S. foreign adversaries.
  • The U.S. propaganda network relentlessly pushed narratives against Russia, China, and other foreign countries. They accused Iran of “threatening Iraq’s water security and flooding the country with crystal meth,” and of harvesting the organs of Afghan refugees.
  • The Stanford report did not identify all of the accounts in the network but one they did name was the exact same Twitter account CENTCOM asked for whitelist privileges in its 2017 email. I verified via Twitter’s internal tools. The account used an AI-created deep fake image.
  • In subsequent reporting, Twitter was cast as an unbiased hero for removing “a network of fake user accounts promoting pro-Western policy positions.” Media covering the story described Twitter as evenly applying its policies & proactive in suspending the DoD network.
  • The reality is much more murky. Twitter actively assisted CENTCOM’s network going back to 2017 and as late as 2020 knew these accounts were covert/designed to deceive to manipulate the discourse, a violation of Twitter’s policies & promises. They waited years to suspend.
  • Twitter’s comms team was closely in touch with reporters, working to minimize Twitter’s role. When the WashPost reported on the scandal, Twitter officials congratulated each other because the story didn’t mention any Twitter employees & focused largely on the Pentagon.
  • The conduct with the U.S. military’s covert network stands in stark contrast with how Twitter has boasted about rapidly identifying and taking down covert accounts tied to state-backed influence operations, including Thailand, Russia, Venezuela, and others since 2016.
  • Full report from Feng found at The Intercept.

Part Nine – Taibbi – Twitter and “Other Government Agencies”

 

  • After weeks of “Twitter Files” reports detailing close coordination between the FBI and Twitter in moderating social media content, the Bureau issued a statement Wednesday. It didn’t refute allegations. Instead, it decried “conspiracy theorists” publishing “misinformation,” whose “sole aim” is to “discredit the agency.”
  • They must think us unambitious, if our “sole aim” is to discredit the FBI. After all, a whole range of government agencies discredit themselves in the #TwitterFiles Why stop with one?
  • The files show the FBI acting as doorman to a vast program of social media surveillance and censorship, encompassing agencies across the federal government – from the State Department to the Pentagon to the CIA.
  • The operation is far bigger than the reported 80 members of the Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF), which also facilitates requests from a wide array of smaller actors – from local cops to media to state governments.
  • Twitter had so much contact with so many agencies that executives lost track. Is today the DOD, and tomorrow the FBI? Is it the weekly call, or the monthly meeting? It was dizzying.
  • A chief end result was that thousands of official “reports” flowed to Twitter from all over, through the FITF and the FBI’s San Francisco field office.
  • On June 29th, 2020, San Francisco FBI agent Elvis Chan wrote to pair of Twitter execs asking if he could invite an “OGA” to an upcoming conference:
  • OGA, or “Other Government Organization,” can be a euphemism for CIA, according to multiple former intelligence officials and contractors. Chuckles one: “They think it’s mysterious, but it’s just conspicuous.”
  • “Other Government Agency (the place where I worked for 27 years),” says retired CIA officer Ray McGovern.
  • It was an open secret at Twitter that one of its executives was ex-CIA, which is why Chan referred to that executive’s “former employer.”
  • The government was in constant contact not just with Twitter but with virtually every major tech firm.
  • These included Facebook, Microsoft, Verizon, Reddit, even Pinterest, and many others. Industry players also held regular meetings without government.
  • One of the most common forums was a regular meeting of the multi-agency Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF), attended by spates of executives, FBI personnel, and – nearly always – one or two attendees marked “OGA.”
  • The FITF meeting agendas virtually always included, at or near the beginning, an “OGA briefing,” usually about foreign matters (hold that thought).
  • Despite its official remit being “Foreign Influence,” the FITF and the SF FBI office became conduit for mountains of domestic moderation requests, from state governments, even local police:
  • Many requests arrived via Teleporter, a one-way platform in which many communications were timed to vanish:
  • Especially as the election approached in 2020, the FITF/FBI overwhelmed Twitter with requests, sending lists of hundreds of problem accounts:
  • The FBI was clearly tailoring searches to Twitter’s policies. FBI complaints were almost always depicted somewhere as a “possible terms of service violation,” even in the subject line:
  • The New York FBI office even sent requests for the “user IDs and handles” of a long list of accounts named in a Daily Beast article. Senior executives say they are “supportive” and “completely comfortable” doing so.
  • It seemed to strike no one as strange that a “Foreign Influence” task force was forwarding thousands of mostly domestic reports, along with the DHS, about the fringiest material:
  • “Foreign meddling” had been the ostensible justification for expanded moderation since platforms like Twitter were dragged to the Hill by the Senate in 2017:
  • The #TwitterFiles show execs under constant pressure to validate theories of foreign influence – and unable to find evidence for key assertions.
  • “Found no links to Russia,” says one analyst, but suggests he could “brainstorm” to “find a stronger connection.” “Extremely tenuous circumstantial chance of being related,” says another. “No real matches using the info,” says former Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth in another case, noting some links were “clearly Russian,” but another was a “house rental in South Carolina?”
  • In another case, Roth concludes a series of Venezuelan pro-Maduro accounts are unrelated to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, because they’re too high-volume:
  • In a key email, news that the State Department was making a wobbly public assertion of Russian influence led an exec – the same one with the “OGA” past – to make a damning admission:
  • “Due to a lack of technical evidence on our end, I’ve generally left it be, waiting for more evidence,” he says. “Our window on that is closing, given that government partners are becoming more aggressive on attribution.”
  • Translation: “more aggressive” “government partners” had closed Twitter’s “window” of independence.
  • “Other Government Agencies” ended up sharing intelligence through the FBI and FITF not just with Twitter, but with Yahoo!, Twitch, Clouldfare, LinkedIn, even Wikimedia:
  • Former CIA agent and whistleblower John Kiriakou believes he recognizes the formatting of these reports. “Looks right on to me,” Kiriakou says, noting that “what was cut off above [the “tearline”] was the originating CIA office and all the copied offices.”
  • Many people wonder if Internet platforms receive direction from intelligence agencies about moderation of foreign policy news stories. It appears Twitter did, in some cases by way of the FITF/FBI.
  • These reports are far more factually controversial than domestic counterparts.
  • One intel report lists accounts tied to “Ukraine ‘neo-Nazi’ Propaganda.’” This includes assertions that Joe Biden helped orchestrate a coup in 2014 and “put his son on the board of Burisma.”
  • Another report asserts a list of accounts accusing the “Biden administration” of “corruption” in vaccine distribution are part of a Russian influence campaign:
  • Often intelligence came in the form of brief reports, followed by long lists of accounts simply deemed to be pro-Maduro, pro-Cuba, pro-Russia, etc. This one batch had over 1000 accounts marked for digital execution:
  • One report says a site “documenting purported rights abuses committed by Ukrainians” is directed by Russian agents:
  • Intel about the shady origin of these accounts might be true. But so might at least some of the information in them – about neo-Nazis, rights abuses in Donbas, even about our own government. Should we block such material?
  • The line between “misinformation” and “distorting propaganda” is thin. Are we comfortable with so many companies receiving so many reports from a “more aggressive” government?
  • The CIA has yet to comment on the nature of its relationship to tech companies like Twitter. Twitter had no input into anything I did or wrote. The searches were carried out by third parties, so what I saw could be limited.

 

Part 10 – Zweig – How Twitter Rigged the Covid-19 Debate

 

  • So far the Twitter Files have focused on evidence of Twitter’s secret blacklists; how the company functioned as a kind of subsidiary of the FBI; and how execs rewrote the platform’s rules to accommodate their own political desires.
  • The United States government pressured Twitter and other social media platforms to elevate certain content and suppress other content about Covid-19.
  • Both the Trump and Biden administrations directly pressed Twitter executives to moderate the platform’s pandemic content according to their wishes.
  • At the onset of the pandemic, according to meeting notes, the Trump admin was especially concerned about panic buying. They came looking for “help from the tech companies to combat misinformation” about “runs on grocery stores.” But . . . there were runs on grocery stores.
  • It wasn’t just Twitter. The meetings with the Trump White House were also attended by Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others.
  • When the Biden admin took over, one of their first meeting requests with Twitter executives was on Covid. The focus was on “anti-vaxxer accounts.” Especially Alex Berenson:
  • In the summer of 2021, president Biden said social media companies were “killing people” for allowing vaccine misinformation. Berenson was suspended hours after Biden’s comments, and kicked off the platform the following month.
  • Berenson sued (and then settled with) Twitter. In the legal process Twitter was compelled to release certain internal communications, which showed direct White House pressure on the company to take action on Berenson.
  • Twitter executives did not fully capitulate to the Biden team’s wishes. An extensive review of internal communications at the company revealed employees often debating moderation cases in great detail, and with more care than was shown by the government toward free speech.
  • But Twitter did suppress views—many from doctors and scientific experts—that conflicted with the official positions of the White House. As a result, legitimate findings and questions that would have expanded the public debate went missing.
  • There were three serious problems with Twitter’s process:
    • First, much of the content moderation was conducted by bots, trained on machine learning and AI – impressive in their engineering, yet still too crude for such nuanced work.
    • Second, contractors, in places like the Philippines, also moderated content. They were given decision trees to aid in the process, but tasking non experts to adjudicate tweets on complex topics like myocarditis and mask efficacy data was destined for a significant error rate
    • Third, most importantly, the buck stopped with higher level employees at Twitter who chose the inputs for the bots and decision trees, and subjectively decided escalated cases and suspensions. As it is with all people and institutions, there was individual and collective bias. With Covid, this bias bent heavily toward establishment dogmas.
  • Inevitably, dissident yet legitimate content was labeled as misinformation, and the accounts of doctors and others were suspended both for tweeting opinions and demonstrably true information.
  • Exhibit A: Dr. Martin Kulldorff, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, tweeted views at odds with US public health authorities and the American left, the political affiliation of nearly the entire staff at Twitter.
  • Internal emails show an “intent to action” by a moderator, saying Kulldorff’s tweet violated the company’s Covid-19 misinformation policy and claimed he shared “false information.”
  • But Kulldorff’s statement was an expert’s opinion—one which also happened to be in line with vaccine policies in numerous other countries. Yet it was deemed “false information” by Twitter moderators merely because it differed from CDC guidelines.
  • After Twitter took action, Kulldorff’s tweet was slapped with a “Misleading” label and all replies and likes were shut off, throttling the tweet’s ability to be seen and shared by many people, the ostensible core function of the platform:
  • Andrew Bostom, a Rhode Island physician, was permanently suspended from Twitter after receiving multiple strikes for misinformation. One of his strikes was for a tweet referring to the results from a peer reviewed study on mRNA vaccines.
  • A review of Twitter log files revealed that an internal audit, conducted after Bostom’s attorney contacted Twitter, found that only 1 of Bostom’s 5 violations were valid.
  • The one Bostom tweet found to still be in violation cited data that was legitimate but inconvenient to the public health establishment’s narrative about the risks of flu versus Covid in children.
  • That this tweet was not only flagged by a bot, but its violation manually affirmed by a staff member is telling of both the algorithmic and human bias at play. Bostom’s account was suspended for months and was finally restored on Christmas Day.
  • In a surreal exchange, Jim Baker, at the time Twitter’s Deputy General Counsel, asks why telling people to not be afraid wasn’t a violation of Twitter’s Covid-19 misinformation policy.
  • Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of Trust & Safety, had to explain that optimism wasn’t misinformation.
  • Twitter made a decision, via the political leanings of senior staff, and govt pressure, that the public health authorities’ approach to the pandemic – prioritizing mitigation over other concerns – was “The Science”
  • Information that challenged that view, such as showing harms of vaccines, or that could be perceived as downplaying the risks of Covid, especially to children, was subject to moderation, and even suppression. No matter whether such views were correct or adopted abroad.
  • What might this pandemic and its aftermath have looked like if there had been a more open debate on Twitter and other social media platforms—not to mention the mainstream press—about the origins of Covid, about lockdowns, about the true risks of Covid in kids, and much more?

Part 11 — Taibbi — How Twitter Let the Intelligence Community In

  • In August 2017, when Facebook decided to suspend 300 accounts with “suspected Russian origin,” Twitter wasn’t worried. Its leaders were sure they didn’t have a Russia problem.
  • “We did not see a big correlation.” “No larger patterns.” “FB may take action on hundreds of accounts, and we may take action on ~25.”
  • “KEEP THE FOCUS ON FB”: Twitter was so sure they had no Russia problem, execs agreed the best PR strategy was to say nothing on record, and quietly hurl reporters at Facebook:
  • “Twitter is not the focus of inquiry into Russian election meddling right now – the spotlight is on FB,” wrote Public Policy VP Colin Crowell:
  • In September, 2017, after a cursory review, Twitter informed the Senate it suspended 22 possible Russian accounts, and 179 others with “possible links” to those accounts, amid a larger set of roughly 2700 suspects manually examined.
  • Receiving these meager results, a furious Senator Mark Warner of Virginia – ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee – held an immediate press conference to denounce Twitter’s report as “frankly inadequate on every level.”
  • “KEEP PRODUCING MATERIAL” After meeting with congressional leaders, Crowell wrote: “Warner has political incentive to keep this issue at top of the news, maintain pressure on us and rest of industry to keep producing material for them.”
  • “TAKING THEIR CUES FROM HILLARY CLINTON” Crowell added Dems were taking cues from Hillary Clinton, who that week said: “It’s time for Twitter to stop dragging its heels and live up to the fact that its platform is being used as a tool for cyber-warfare.”
  • In growing anxiety over its PR problems, Twitter formed a “Russia Task Force” to proactively self-investigate. The “Russia Task Force” started mainly with data shared from counterparts at Facebook, centered around accounts supposedly tied to Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA). But the search for Russian perfidy was a dud:
    • OCT 13 2017: “No evidence of a coordinated approach, all of the accounts found seem to be lone-wolf type activity (different timing, spend, targeting, <$10k in ad spend).”
    • OCT 18 2017: “First round of RU investigation… 15 high risk accounts, 3 of which have connections with Russia, although 2 are RT.”
    • OCT 23 2017: “Finished with investigation… 2500 full manual account reviews, we think this is exhaustive… 32 suspicious accounts and only 17 of those are connected with Russia, only 2 of those have significant spend one of which is Russia Today…remaining <$10k in spend.”
    • Twitter’s search finding “only 2” significant accounts, “one of which is Russia Today,” was based on the same data that later inspired panic headlines like “Russian Influence Reached 126 Million Through Facebook Alone”:
  • The failure of the “Russia task force” to produce “material” worsened the company’s PR crisis.
  • “Were Twitter a contractor for the FSB… they could not have built a more effective disinformation platform,” Johns Hopkins Professor (and Intel Committee “expert”) Thomas Rid told Politico.
  • As congress threatened costly legislation, and Twitter began was subject to more bad press fueled by the committees, the company changed its tune about the smallness of its Russia problem.
  • In Washington weeks after the first briefing, Twitter leaders were told by Senate staff that “Sen Warner feels like tech industry was in denial for months.” Added an Intel staffer: “Big interest in Politico article about deleted accounts. Twitter “pledged to work with them on their desire to legislate”:
  • “REPORTERS NOW KNOW THIS IS A MODEL THAT WORKS” This cycle – threatened legislation, wedded to scare headlines pushed by congressional/intel sources, followed by Twitter caving to moderation asks – would later be formalized in partnerships with federal law enforcement.
  • Twitter soon settled on its future posture. In public, it removed content “at our sole discretion.” Privately, they would “off-board” anything “identified by the U.S.. intelligence community as a state-sponsored entity conducting cyber-operations.”
  • Twitter let the “USIC” into its moderation process. It would not leave. Wrote Crowell, in an email to the company’s leaders: “We will not be reverting to the status quo.”

Part 12 — Taibbi — Twitter and the FBI ‘Belly Button’

  • 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.
  • In February, 2020, as COVID broke out, the Global Engagement Center – a fledgling analytic/intelligence arms of the State Department – went to the media with a report called, “Russian Disinformation Apparatus Taking Advantage of Coronavirus Concerns.”
  • The GEC flagged accounts as “Russian personas and proxies” based on criteria like, “Describing the Coronavirus as an engineered bioweapon,” blaming “research conducted at the Wuhan institute,” and “attributing the appearance of the virus to the CIA.”
  • State also flagged accounts that retweeted news that Twitter banned the popular U.S. ZeroHedge, claiming the episode “led to another flurry of disinformation narratives.” ZH had done reports speculating that the virus had lab origin.
  • The GEC still led directly to news stories like the AFP’s headline, “Russia-linked disinformation campaign led to coronavirus alarm, US says,” and a Politico story about how “Russian, Chinese, Iranian Disinformation Narratives Echo One Another.”
  • “YOU HAVEN’T MADE A RUSSIA ATTRIBUTION IN SOME TIME” When Clemson’s Media Forensics Hub complained Twitter hadn’t “made a Russia attribution” in some time, Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth said it was “revelatory of their motives.”
  • “WE’RE HAPPY TO WORK DIRECTLY WITH YOU ON THIS, INSTEAD OF NBC.” Roth tried in vain to convince outsider researchers like the Clemson lab to check with them before pushing stories about foreign interference to media.
  • When the State Department/GEC – remember this was 2020, during the Trump administration – wanted to publicize a list of 5,500 accounts it claimed would “amplify Chinese propaganda and disinformation” about COVID, Twitter analysts were beside themselves.
  • The GEC report appeared based on DHS data circulated earlier that week, and included accounts that followed “two or more” Chinese diplomatic accounts. They reportedly ended up with a list “nearly 250,000” names long, and included Canadian officials and a CNN account:
  • The GEC was soon agreeing to loop in Twitter before going public, but they were using a technique that had boxed in Twitter before. “The delta between when they share material and when they go to the press continues to be problematic,” wrote one comms official.
  • “STATE… NSA, and CIA” Chan reassured him it would be a “one-way” channel, and “State/GEC, NSA, and CIA have expressed interest in being allowed on in listen mode only.”
  • “BELLY BUTTON” “We can give you everything we’re seeing from the FBI and USIC agencies,” Chan explained, but the DHS agency CISA “will know what’s going on in each state.” He went on to ask if industry could “rely on the FBI to be the belly button of the USG.”
  • They eventually settled on an industry call via Signal. In an impressive display of operational security, Chan circulated private numbers of each company’s chief moderation officer in a Word Doc marked “Signal Phone Numbers,” subject-lined, “List of Numbers.”
  • 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. Execs rushed to tell “Team SSCI” they zapped five accounts on an FBI tip:
  • Requests arrived and were escalated from all over: from Treasury, the NSA, virtually every state, the HHS, from the FBI and DHS, and more:
  • They also received an astonishing variety of requests from officials asking for individuals they didn’t like to be banned. Here, the office for Democrat and House Intel Committee chief Adam Schiff asks Twitter to ban journalist Paul Sperry:
  • “WE DON’T DO THIS” Even Twitter declined to honor Schiff’s request at the time. Sperry was later suspended, however.
  • Twitter honored almost everyone else’s requests, even those from GEC – including a decision to ban accounts like @RebelProtests
    and @BricsMedia because GEC identified them as “GRU-controlled” and linked “to the Russian government,” respectively:
  • The GEC requests were what a former CIA staffer working at Twitter was referring to, when he said, “Our window on that is closing,” meaning they days when Twitter could say no to serious requests were over.
  • Remember the 2017 “internal guidance” in which Twitter decided to remove any user “identified by the U.S. intelligence community” as a state-sponsored entity committing cyber operations? By 2020 such identifications came in bulk.
  • “USIC” requests often simply began “We assess” and then provided lists (sometimes, in separate excel docs) they believed were connected to Russia’s Internet Research Agency and committing cyber ops, from Africa to South America to the U.S.:
  • One brief report, sent right after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine early last year, flagged major Russian outlets like Vedomosti and Gazeta.ru. Note the language about “state actors” fits Twitter’s internal guidance.
  • Some reports were just a paragraph long and said things like: “The attached email accounts… were possibly used for “influence operations, social media collection, or social engineering.” Without further explanation, Twitter would be forwarded an excel doc:
  • They were even warned about publicity surrounding a book by former Ukraine prosecutor Viktor Shokhin, who alleged “corruption by the U.S. government” – specifically by Joe Biden.
  • By the weeks before the election in 2020, Twitter was so confused by the various streams of incoming requests, staffers had to ask the FBI which was which
  • “I APOLOGIZE IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR WORK LOAD”: Requests poured in from FBI offices all over the country, day after day, hour after hour: If Twitter didn’t act quickly, questions came: “Was action taken?” “Any movement?”
  • Wrote senior attorney Stacia Cardille: “My in-box is really f— up at this point.”
  • It all led to the situation described by @ShellenbergerMD two weeks ago, in which Twitter was paid $3,415,323, essentially for being an overwhelmed subcontractor. Twitter wasn’t just paid. For the amount of work they did for government, they were underpaid.

Part 13 – Berenson – Pfizer’s Suppression of Covid-19 Vaccine Debate

  • On August 27, 2021, Dr. Scott Gottlieb – a Pfizer director with over 550,000 Twitter followers – saw a tweet he didn’t like, a tweet that might hurt sales of Pfizer’s mRNA vaccines.
  • The tweet explained correctly that natural immunity after Covid infection was superior to vaccine protection. It called on the White House to “follow the science” and exempt people with natural immunity from upcoming vaccine mandates.
    • It came not from an “anti-vaxxer” like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., but from Dr. Brett Giroir, a physician who had briefly followed Gottlieb as the head of the Food & Drug Administration. Further, the tweet actually encouraged people who did not have natural immunity to “Get vaccinated!”
  • Besides being former FDA commissioner, a CNBC contributor, and a prominent voice on Covid public policy, Gottlieb was a senior board member at Pfizer, which depended on mRNA jabs for almost half its $81 billion in sales in 2021. Pfizer paid Gottlieb $365,000 for his work that year.
  • Gottlieb stepped in, emailing Todd O’Boyle, a top lobbyist in Twitter’s Washington office who was also Twitter’s point of contact with the White House.
    • The post was “corrosive,” Gottlieb wrote. He worried it would “end up going viral and driving news coverage.”
  • Through Jira, an internal system Twitter used for managing complaints, O’Boyle forwarded Gottlieb’s email to the Twitter “Strategic Response” team. That group was responsible for handling concerns from the company’s most important employees and users.
  • “Please see this report from the former FDA commissioner,” O’Boyle wrote – failing to mention that Gottlieb was a Pfizer board member with a financial interest in pushing mRNA shots.
  • A Strategic Response analyst quickly found the tweet did notviolate any of the company’s misinformation rules.
  • Yet Twitter wound up flagging Giroir’s tweet anyway, putting a misleading tag on it and preventing almost anyone from seeing it. It remains tagged even though severallarge studies have confirmed the truth of Giroir’s words.
  • A week later, on Sept. 3, 2021, Gottlieb tried to strike again, complaining to O’Boyle about a tweet from Justin Hart. Hart is a lockdown and Covid vaccine skeptic with more than 100,000 Twitter followers.
  • “Sticks and stones may break my bones but a viral pathogen with a child mortality rate of <>0% has cost our children nearly three years of schooling,” Hart had written.
  • Why Gottlieb objected to Hart’s words is not clear, but the Pfizer shot would soon be approved for children 5 to 11, representing another massive market for Pfizer, if parents could be convinced Covid was a real threat to their kids.
  • O’Boyle referred to “former FDA Commissioner Gottlieb” when he forwarded the report, again ignoring Gottlieb’s current work for Pfizer.
  • This time, though, Gottlieb’s complaint was so far afield that Twitter refused to act.
  • At the same time, Gottlieb was also pressing Twitter to act against me [Alex Berenson], as I disclosed on Substackon Oct. 13, 2022, drawing on documents that Twitter’s pre-Musk regime provided to me as part of my lawsuit against it. (Gottlieb’s action was part of a larger conspiracy that included the Biden White House and Andrew Slavitt, working publicly and privately to pressure Twitter until it had no choice but to ban me.
  • The morning after I wrote that article, Gottlieb appeared on CNBC, the financial news channel where he is a contributor, and offered what at best was a seriously misleading explanation of his actions and his motives.
  • Gottlieb did not deny pressing Twitter on me – he could not, given the documents I had released the night before.
  • But in an interview with Joe Kernan of CNBC, Gottlieb said he had asked Twitter to act only because he was concerned if tweets raised the threat of violence against vaccine advocates.
  • “The inability of these platforms to police direct threats, physical threats about people, that’s my concern about what’s going on in that ecosystem,” Gottlieb said.
  • “I’m unconcerned about debate being made,” Gottlieb told Kernan. “I’m concerned about physical threats being made for people’s safety.”
  • In a tweet that morning, Gottlieb doubled down, writing: Respectful debate and dialogue is one thing, and should be encouraged and protected. But there’s no place for targeted harassment, and misleading dialogue which can instigate a small but persuadable group of people to make targeted and dangerous threats.
  • But Brett Giroir’s tweet about natural immunity was the definition of “respectful debate and dialogue.” And in his own emailto Todd O’Boyle, Gottlieb did not raise any security concerns about it. He simply complained that it might wind up “driving news coverage.
  • Gottlieb is not just a Pfizer board member. He is one of seven members of the board’s executive committee and the head of its regulatory and compliance committee, which oversees “compliance with laws, regulations, and internal procedures applicable to pharmaceutical sales and marketing activities.”
  • Pfizer has a long history of violating drug industry laws and ethics rules.
    • In 2009, it agreed to pay $2.3 billion, the largest health care fraud settlement in American history, for fraudulently marketing several drugs.
    • In 1996, it conducted a clinical trial of an antibiotic in Nigeria in which 11 children died and which became the inspiration for John le Carre’s novel The Constant Gardner.
  • So how will Pfizer react to the black-and-white proof from Twitter’s records that one of its most powerful board members secretly tried to suppress debate on the mRNA jabs that have has been by far its best-selling product since 2020?
  • And will CNBC continue to let Gottlieb use it to mislead the public?

Part 14 – Taibbi – The RussiaGate Lies

  • 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.”
  • Twitter officials were aghast, finding no evidence of Russian influence:
    • “We are feeding congressional trolls.”
    • “Not any…significant activity connected to Russia.”
    • “Putting the cart before the horse assuming this is propaganda/bots.”
  • Twitter warned politicians and media the not only lacked evidence, but had evidence the accounts weren’t Russian – and were roundly ignored.
  • On January 18th, 2018, Republican Devin Nunes submitted a classified memo to the House Intel Committee detailing abuses by the FBI in obtaining FISA surveillance authority against Trump-connected figures, including the crucial role played by the infamous “Steele Dossier”:
  • The Nunes assertions would virtually all be verified in a report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz in December 2019.
  • Nonetheless, national media in January and early February of 2018 denounced the Nunes report in oddly identical language, calling it a “joke”:
  • On January 23rd, 2018, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) published an open letter saying the hashtag “gained the immediate attention and assistance of social media accounts linked to Russian influence operations.”
    • Feinstein/Schiff said the Nunes memo “distorts” classified information, but note they didn’t call it incorrect.
  • Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal followed suit, publishing a letter saying, “We find it reprehensible that Russian agents have so eagerly manipulated innocent Americans.”
  • Feinstein, Schiff, Blumenthal, and media members all pointed to the same source: the Hamilton 68 dashboard created by former FBI counterintelligence official Clint Watts, under the auspices of the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD).
  • The dashboard, which featured a crude picture of Vladimir Putin deviously blowing evil red Twitter birds into the atmosphere, was vague in how it reached its conclusions.
  • Inside Twitter, executives panned Watts, Hamilton 68, and the Alliance for Securing Democracy. Two key complaints: Hamilton 68 seemed to be everyone’s only source, and no one was checking with Twitter.
    • “I encourage you to be skeptical of Hamilton 68’s take on this, which as far as I can tell is the only source for these stories,” said Global Policy Communications Chief (and future WH and NSC spokesperson) Emily Horne.
    • “All the swirl is based on Hamilton,” said Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth.
    • “If ASD isn’t going to fact-check with us, we should feel free to correct the record on their work,” said Policy VP Carlos Monje.
  • Roth couldn’t find any Russian connection to #ReleaseTheMemo – at all. “I just reviewed the accounts that posted the first 50 tweets with #releasethememo and… none of them show any signs of affiliation to Russia.”
  • “We investigated, found that engagement as overwhelmingly organic, and driven by VITs” – Very Important Tweeters, including Wikileaks and congressman Steve King.
  • A staffer for “DiFi” – Feinstein – agreed it would be “helpful to know” how Hamilton 68 goes by “the process by which they decide an account is Russian.”
  • When Twitter spoke to a Blumenthal staffer, they tried to “wave him off” because “we don’t believe these are bots.”
  • Added another: “It might be worth nudging Blumenthal’s staffer that it could be in his boss’ best interest not to go out there because it could come back to make him look silly.”
  • One Twitter exec even tried to negotiate, implying an undisclosed future PR concession if Blumenthal would lay off on this: “It seems like there are other wins we could offer him.”
  • Blumenthal published his letter anyway.
  • 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.
  • They expressed this explicitly to Blumenthal’s camp, saying “Twitter spent a lot of resources” on this request and the reward from Blumenthal shouldn’t be round after round of requests.”
  • Eventually Twitter staff realize “Blumenthal isn’t looking for real and nuanced solutions” but “just wants to get credit for pushing us further.”
  • Ultimately senior executives talked about “feeding congressional trolls” and compared their situation to the children’s book, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”
  • Despite universal internal conviction that there were no Russians in the story, Twitter went on to follow a slavish pattern of not challenging Russia claims on the record.
  • Outside counsel from DC-connected firms like Debevoise and Plimpton advised Twitter to use language like, “With respect to particular hashtags, we take seriously any activity that may represent an abuse of our platform.”
  • As a result, reporters from the AP to Politico to NBC to Rolling Stone continued to hammer the “Russian bots” theme, despite a total lack of evidence.
  • Russians weren’t just blamed for #ReleaseTheMemo but #SchumerShutdown, #ParklandShooting, even #GunControlNow – to “widen the divide,” according to the New York Times.
  • NBC, Politico, AP, Times, Business Insider, and other media outlets who played up the “Russian bots” story – even Rolling Stone – all declined to comment for this story.
  • The staffs of Feinstein, Schiff, and Blumenthal also declined comment.
  • Who did comment? Devin Nunes. “Schiff and the Democrats falsely claimed Russians were behind the Release the Memo hashtag, all my investigative work… By spreading the Russia collusion hoax, they instigated one of the greatest outbreaks of mass delusion in U.S. history.”

Part 15 – Fang – How Big Pharma Used Social Media to Shape Content Around Vaccine Policy

  • In 2020, it was clear that the pandemic would require rapid innovation. Early on, there was a push to make the solution equitable: an international partnership to share ideas, technology, new forms of medicine to rapidly solve this crisis.
  • But global drug giants saw the crisis as an opportunity for unprecedented profit. Behind closed doors, pharma launched a massive lobbying blitz to crush any effort to share patents/IP for new covid-related medicine, including therapeutics and vaccines.
  • BIO, the lobby group that represents biopharma, including Moderna & Pfizer, wrote to the newly elected Biden admin, demanding the U.S. gov sanction any country attempting to violate patent rights and create generic low cost covid medicine or vaccines.
  • That brings us to Twitter. The global lobbying blitz includes direct pressure on social media. 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.
  • Twitter’s reps responded quickly to the pharma request, which was also backed by the German government. A lobbyist in Europe asked the content moderation team to monitor the accounts of Pfizer, AstraZeneca & of activist hashtags like #peoplesvaccine.
  • The potential “fake accounts” that Twitter monitored for protesting Pfizer? These were real people. Here’s one the Twitter team flagged for potential terms of use violations. I talked to Terry, a 74 year old retired bricklayer in the UK on the phone.
  • It’s not clear what actions Twitter ultimately took on this particular request. Several Twitter employees noted in subsequent messages that none of this activism constituted abuse. But the company continued monitoring tweets.
  • In a separate push, Pfizer & Moderna’s lobbying group, BIO, fully funded a special content moderation campaign designed by a contractor called Public Good Projects, which worked w/Twitter to set content moderation rules around covid “misinformation.”
  • BIO provided $1,275,000 to the campaign, part of which is revealed through tax forms. The PGP campaign, called “Stronger,” helped Twitter create content moderation bots, select which public health accounts got verification, helped crowdsource content takedowns.
  • Many of the tweets the BIO-funded campaign focused on were truly unhinged misinfo, like claims that vaccines include microchips. But others Stronger lobbied Twitter on were more of a grey area, like vaccine passports & vaccine mandates, policies that coerce vaccination.
  • The Moderna/Pfizer-funded campaign included direct regular emails with lists of tweets to takedown & others to verify. Here’s an example of those types of emails that went straight to Twitter’s lobbyists and content moderators. Many focused on @zerohedge, which was suspended.
  • Notably, 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.
  • For more detail, see Fang’s piece on The Intercept.

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