Miss a day, miss a lot. Subscribe to The Defender's Top News of the Day. It's free.
The latest “Twitter files” document dumps expose the role the FBI and other federal agencies played in policing content on Twitter, including their attempt to censor the Hunter Biden laptop story.
The documents also shed light on the internal discussions and policy changes leading to the suspension of then-President Donald Trump’s account.
The revelations are the latest in an ongoing series of insights into Twitter’s internal operations, prior to Elon Musk’s takeover, stemming from documents released in stages by journalists Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss, and author and writer Michael Shellenberger.
Meanwhile, Twitter users voted for Musk to relinquish the platform’s helm, according to results, released today, of an online poll Musk posted Sunday. Musk said he would abide by the results of the poll, although it’s unclear what this will mean in practice.
Musk also announced that major policy decisions on Twitter will be put to a vote going forward, and in recent days, he frequently hinted that upcoming revelations will involve Twitter’s COVID-19 policies and the role of Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Previous “Twitter files” document dumps revealed a pervasive culture of censorship at Twitter, where user content was frequently and usually one-sidedly removed and users were suspended or “shadow banned.” Many of the decisions were implemented without the users’ knowledge.
“The government is harvesting tons of information from these companies and then turning around and spitting it back to companies like Twitter in the form of requests for maybe bannings, maybe shadow bans, maybe deletions or labels.” @mtaibbi https://t.co/vhSAlQoKYc
— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@RobertKennedyJr) December 15, 2022
‘Twitter: The FBI Subsidiary’
In a long succession of tweets posted Dec. 16, Taibbi revealed “part six” of the Twitter files, which he dubbed, “Twitter: The FBI Subsidiary.” This was followed today by the release of “part seven” pertaining to “The FBI & the Hunter Biden Laptop.”
The tweets “showed bureau officials flagging specific people for Twitter to take action against, the latest tranche of documents that bolster evidence that the government and Big Tech have been colluding to censor Americans,” The Epoch Times reported.
According to Taibbi, “Between January 2020 and November 2022, there were over 150 emails between the FBI and former Twitter Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth.” The bureau’s San Francisco agent Elvis Chan was a prominent figure in many of these exchanges.
An FBI supervisory special agent, Chan is one of the defendants named in a lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri against the Biden administration, alleging social media censorship on its part.
Chan recently was deposed in that case, testifying under oath that the FBI had developed a command post prior to the 2020 and 2022 elections, sending election-related posts to Twitter and other social media platforms.
Taibbi said “a surprisingly high number” of FBI requests to Twitter asked the platform “to take action on election misinformation, even involving joke tweets from low-follower accounts.”
The requests came from the FBI’s social 80-person media-related task force, known as “FITF” (Foreign Interference Task Force), alluding to alleged Russian influence in U.S. elections.
It wasn’t just the FBI that had direct access to Twitter. Taibbi tweeted that “Federal intelligence and law enforcement reach into Twitter included the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which partnered with security contractors and think tanks to pressure Twitter to moderate content.”
“The #TwitterFiles show something new,” wrote Taibbi: “agencies like the FBI and DHS regularly sending social media content to Twitter through multiple entry points, pre-flagged for moderation.”
“What stands out,” Taibbi said, “is the sheer quantity of reports from the government.”
In one example from November 2022, the FBI’s San Francisco office contacted Twitter by email requesting “action” on four accounts. The tweets flagged by the FBI, said Taibbi, were “almost all jokes,” and cut both ways, including targeting “a blue-leaning account” for one of the joke tweets.
User @ClaireFosterPHD, who was one of the FBI’s targets, remarked “Anyone who cannot discern obvious satire from reality has no place making decisions for others or working for the feds.”
One Twitter user that was targeted, @Tiberius444, remarked “I can’t believe the FBI is policing jokes on Twitter. That’s crazy.”
Taibbi also revealed that Twitter moved toward weekly meetings with the FBI, DHS, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Twitter Deputy General Counsel Jim Baker, formerly a top FBI lawyer, was a party to these meetings.
One related FBI communication to a Twitter executive stated that the bureau “was adamant no impediments to sharing exist,” referring to the sharing of classified information “with industry.”
‘A unique one-big-happy-family vibe’
Taibbi described the apparently close relationship between Twitter and such agencies as a “unique one-big-happy-family vibe.”
There were “multiple points of entry into Twitter,” Taibbi said, for federal and intelligence agencies, including “Teleporter,” which Taibbi described as “a platform through which Twitter could receive reports from the FBI,” and the “Partner Support Portal,” developed by the Center for Internet Security, a partner of the DHS.
State governments and government-affiliated think tanks, including the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Laboratory and the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public also maintained a similar level of access to Twitter, according to Taibbi.
A March 2021 FBI email to Twitter, where a set of “products” was sent to the social media platform, further highlighted the close relationship. According to Taibbi, these “products” consisted of “DHS bulletins stressing the need for greater collaboration between law enforcement and ‘private sector partners.’”
The FBI in one case sent over so many “possible violative content reports,” according to Taibbi, that Twitter personnel congratulated each other in [internal communications channel] Slack for the “monumental undertaking” of reviewing them.
In a “supplemental” release of documents Dec. 18, Taibbi provided more insight into the close relationship between Twitter and the FBI. This document dump primarily dealt with the FBI’s 2020 request that Twitter provide answers to written questions from the Foreign Interference Task Force, with direct communication between Chan and Roth.
Taibbi said the FBI responded to the release of part six of the “Twitter files” by claiming it “regularly engages with private sector entities to provide information specific to identified foreign malign influence actors’ subversive, undeclared, covert, or criminal activities.”
According to Taibbi though, “We haven’t seen that in the documents to date. Instead, we’ve mostly seen requests for moderation involving low-follower accounts belonging to ordinary Americans — and [actor] Billy Baldwin,” who was also targeted by the FBI in his communications with Twitter.
“What ‘law enforcement’ objective is served by asking for Billy Baldwin’s location information?” Taibbi asked. “Why is the FBI/DHS in the business of analyzing and flagging social media content at all? When were these programs created and who approved them?”
In response to journalist Jon Nicosia, who downplayed the significance of the latest “Twitter files” revelations, Taibbi tweeted:
“This FBI response is disingenuous on multiple fronts. None of this explains flagging the silly jokes of ordinary Americans with low follower counts.
“Also, they are clearly not doing this in service of investigating crime. This is about domestic intelligence and opinion control.”
And in another tweet, Taibbi accused the FBI of paying more attention to what ordinary users were posting on Twitter, than going after “child sex predators or terrorists.” He wrote:
“Instead of chasing child sex predators or terrorists, the FBI has agents — lots of them — analyzing and mass-flagging social media posts. Not as part of any criminal investigation, but as a permanent, end-in-itself surveillance operation. People should not be okay with this.”
Lawmaker threatens to subpoena FBI, DOJ, others
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told Fox News that the FBI, DOJ and others now face a subpoena from the U.S. House of Representatives.
“We are definitely pursuing the Department of Justice and also the FBI,” Turner said. “We certainly intend to pursue subpoena power to expose the extent to which the FBI has been doing this.”
A Dec. 17 New York Post report identified numerous former FBI agents who held prominent positions within Twitter. Some of these executives have since moved on to positions in other Big Tech firms such as Google.
In “part seven” of the “Twitter files” document dump, Shellenberger provided additional evidence of the FBI’s pressure on social media platforms and traditional news outlets and further confirmed the prevalence of ex-FBI officials within Twitter.
According to Shellenberger, “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.”
“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,” Shellenberger said.
Although the Hunter Biden laptop story and the internal debate within Twitter to censor the story was first addressed in the initial Dec. 3 installment of the “Twitter files,” Shellenberger writes that “Since then, we have discovered new info that points to an organized effort by the intel community to influence Twitter & other platforms.”
By Oct. 13, 2020, one day before the New York Post released its story about the Hunter Biden laptop, Chan sent 10 documents related to this issue to Roth, via the Teleporter communications channel.
The story was proven to be factually accurate, “And yet, within hours, Twitter and other social media companies censored the NY Post article, preventing it from spreading and, more importantly, undermining its credibility in the minds of many Americans,” Shellenberger wrote.
As part of this “organized effort” during all of 2020, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies repeatedly primed Roth to dismiss reports of Hunter Biden’s laptop as a Russian “hack and leak” operation, according to Shellenberger, who said Roth confirmed this in a Dec. 21, 2020, sworn declaration. The same occurred with Facebook.
These warnings came despite “very little intel” pointing in this direction, and even though “Twitter executives *repeatedly* [emphasis original] reported very little Russian activity” on the platform, which initially led Twitter to debunk claims of Russian interference.
However, writes Shellenberger, “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.” Chan provided “temporary Top Secret security clearances for Twitter executives” so that the FBI could “share information about threats to the upcoming elections.”
The FBI’s pressure appeared to make a difference. For instance, “In Sept 2020, Roth participated in an Aspen Institute ‘tabletop exercise’ on a potential ‘Hack-and-Dump’ operation relating to Hunter Biden,” according to Shellenberger.
This “tabletop exercise” was organized by “Vivian Schiller, the fmr CEO of NPR, fmr head of news at Twitter; fmr Gen. mgr of NY Times; fmr Chief Digital Officer of NBC News,” tweeted Shellenberger, while “attendees included Meta/[Facebook’s] head of security policy and the top nat. sec. reporters for @nytimes @wapo [Washington Post].”
For Taibbi, the “takeaway” from these revelations is that “what most people think of as the “deep state” is really a tangled collaboration of state agencies, private contractors, and (sometimes state-funded) NGOs [non-governmental organizations]. The lines become so blurred as to be meaningless.”
Twitter changed policies to target former President Trump
Parts three, four and five of the “Twitter files” largely pertained to the suspension of then-President Donald Trump from the platform. These documents and internal communications indicated that Twitter executives and employees sought to identify a pretext to ban Trump, eventually making policy changes specifically to target Trump.
According to Weiss, “For years, Twitter had resisted calls both internal and external to ban Trump on the grounds that blocking a world leader from the platform or removing their controversial tweets would hide important information that people should be able to see and debate.”
Twitter executives, however, did not stick to this position for long. According to Weiss, “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,” wrote Weiss, “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. Members of the team compared Trump to the ‘Christchurch shooter or Hitler.’”
From this point forward, Twitter executives built “the case for a permanent ban” of Trump from the platform, Shellenberger said, despite Twitter’s 2018 statement that “Blocking a world leader from Twitter would hide important info… [and] hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.”
On Jan. 8, 2021, Twitter imposed a permanent ban on Trump’s account on the basis of a “policy” which was not previously in effect: “specifically how [Trump’s tweets] are being received & interpreted” — despite a 2019 statement by Twitter that it did “not attempt to determine all potential interpretations of the content or its intent.”
“Twitter’s staff & senior execs were overwhelmingly progressive,” Shellenberger said. “In 2018, 2020, and 2022, 96%, 98%, & 99% of Twitter staff’s political donations went to Democrats.”
In turn, Weiss noted that while rules were changed to provide a pretext for Trump’s permanent ban, other world leaders who openly called for violence and the eradication of entire nations, were not suspended or banned and, in many instances, their inflammatory tweets remained on the platform.
According to Taibbi, this increased flexibility in Twitter’s interpretation of its own rules and policies came “as the election approached,” when “senior executives — perhaps under pressure from federal agencies … increasingly struggled with rules, and began to speak of ‘vios’ as pretexts to do what they’d likely have done anyway.”
As part of this, said Taibbi, Twitter executives, on Oct. 8, 2020, “opened [an internal] 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’).”
During this time,” said Taibbi, “executives were also clearly liaising with federal enforcement and intelligence agencies about moderation of election-related content.”
Trump, however, was not the only target of such efforts, which targeted even low-level elected officials. In one instance, “FBI sends reports about a pair of tweets, the second of which involves a former Tippecanoe County, Indiana Councilor and Republican named @JohnBasham claiming ‘Between 2% and 25% of Ballots by Mail are Being Rejected for Errors.’”
Taibbi called such decisions “subjective,” noting that “in the docs, execs often expand criteria to subjective issues like intent (yes, a video is authentic, but why was it shown?), orientation (was a banned tweet shown to condemn, or support?), or reception (did a joke cause ‘confusion’?).” This led to contradictory decisions on whether to keep or remove content.
For instance, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was automatically tagged for a tweet stating that the Trump administration “deliberately crippled” the U.S. Postal Service, but Roth “quickly” removed this tag.
According to Taibbi, “There is no way to follow the frenzied exchanges among Twitter personnel from between January 6th and 8th without knowing the basics of the company’s vast lexicon of acronyms and Orwellian unwords,” including to “bounce” (time out) an account, to label (“interstitial”) a tweet, or to use a “denylist.”
Ultimately, wrote Taibbi, Twitter’s “executives on day 1 of the January 6th crisis at least tried to pay lip service to its dizzying array of rules. By day 2, they began wavering. By day 3, a million rules were reduced to one: what we say, goes.”
Musk hints more to come on Fauci, COVID
In recent tweets, Musk suggested more information about Fauci and COVID-19 policies will soon be revealed.
In a Twitter exchange between Musk and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., chairman and chief litigation counsel for Children’s Health Defense, Kennedy wrote, “Fauci purchased omertà [a code of silence] among virologists globally with a total of $37 billion in annual payoffs in research grants. With the paymaster gone, the orthodoxies will unravel.”
Musk responded with a characteristic one-word answer: “Precisely.”
In another tweet, responding to doctors and outspoken critics of COVID-19 vaccines and restrictions Drs. Martin Kulldorff and Jay Bhattacharya, Musk wrote, “The tide is turning fast for the Faucists.”
Perhaps the clearest indication from Musk that the release of information relating to Fauci and COVID-19 is on the way came in response to a tweet by user @hodgetwins: “You found messages between Twitter execs and our govt. (Fauci and team) pushing for censorship of anyone that didn’t go along with their narrative on COVID?”
Musk, in response, did not tweet any words, but instead, a trophy emoji, as if to imply that the user in question had made an accurate guess.