The Twitter Files 4 – The Removal of Donald Trump (Post Jan 7)
Following the release of The Twitter Files Part 3, which detailed senior Twitter staff’s actions up to January 7, 2021, Musk, through Shellenberger, releases The Twitter Files Part 4: The removal of Donald Trump: January 7. The files details how Twitter staff created justifications and unique policy changes so they could ban President Trump from the platform, while having no consideration for free speech issues.
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
This #TwitterFiles is reported with @lwoodhouse
— Michael Shellenberger (@shellenberger) December 10, 2022
After Jan 6, Michelle Obama; tech journalist Kara Swisher; the Anti-Defamation League, and many others called for Trump to be banned from Twitter. At that time, CEO Jack Dorsey was on vacation in French Polynesia and left the handling to Yoel Roth (Global Head of Trust and Safety) and Vijaya Gadde (Head off Legal, Policy & Trust).
Schellenberger notes that in 2018, 2020, and 2022, 96%, 98%, & 99% of Twitter staff’s political donations went to Democrats and that Roth had previously tweeted that there were “ACTUAL NAZIS IN THE WHITE HOUSE”.
On Jan 7, Dorsey emails employees to say Twitter should remain consistent in its policies, including the right of users to return to Twitter after a temporary suspension. Around 11:30am PT Roth shares with colleagues that Dorsey had approved a system where five violations (“strikes”) would result in permanent suspension.
GUESS WHAT. Jack just approved repeat offender for civic integrity.
At this point, Trump had four strikes.
On Jan 8, Twitter announces a permanent ban on Trump due to the “risk of further incitement of violence”. Twitter says its ban is based on “specifically how [Trump’s tweets] are being received & interpreted”, despite the company saying in 2019 that it did “not attempt to determine all potential interpretations of the content or its intent.”
Shellenberger notes that the only serious concern expressed within Twitter over the implications for free speech and democracy of banning Trump came from a junior person in the organization.
This might be an unpopular opinion but one off ad hoc decisions like this that don’t appear rooted in policy are imho a slippery slope… This now appears to be a fiat by an online platform CEO with a global presence that can gatekeep speech for the entire world…
Roth then asks colleagues to add “stopthesteal” & [QAnon conspiracy term] “kraken” to a blacklist of terms to be deamplified. Roth’s colleague objects that blacklisting “stopthesteal” risks “deamplifying counterspeech” that validates the election. Other employees note that Kraken is the name of a cryptocurrency exchange and allowlist it. Other struggle with shared screenshots of Trump’s tweet.
Around noon, a confused senior executive in advertising sales sends a DM to Roth.
jack says: ‘we will permanently suspend [Trump] if our policies are violated after a 12 hour account lock’… what policies is jack talking about?”
*ANY* policy violation
The executive then asks if Twitter is dropping its “Public-interest exceptions” policy, 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”. Six hours later, at 7:18pm, Roth replies:
In this specific case, we’re changing our public interest approach for his account to say any violation would result in suspension.
At 12:27am Roth pushes for a permanent suspension of Rep. Matt Gaetz even though it
doesn’t quite fit anywhere (duh)…I’m trying to talk [Twitter’s] safety [team] into… removal as a conspiracy that incites violence.
Around 2:30, comms execs DM Roth to say they don’t want to make a big deal of the QAnon ban to the media because they fear “if we push this it looks we’re trying to offer up something in place of the thing everyone wants,” meaning a Trump ban.
After an engineer expresses concerns that Trump’s account is being treated differently to others, Roth says:
To put a different spin on it: policy is one part of the system of how Twitter works… we ran into the world changing faster than we were able to either adapt the product or the policy.”
The Twitter Files 3 – The Removal of Donald Trump (Pre-Jan 6)
Musk, through Taibbi, releases the third installment of The Twitter Files, titled THE REMOVAL OF DONALD TRUMP Part One: October 2020-January 6th.
The world knows much of the story of what happened between riots at the Capitol on January 6th, and the removal of President Donald Trump from Twitter on January 8th. We’ll show you what hasn’t been revealed: the erosion of standards within the company in months before J6, decisions by high-ranking executives to violate their own policies, and more, against the backdrop of ongoing, documented interaction with federal agencies. This first installment covers the period before the election through January 6th.
3. We’ll show you what hasn’t been revealed: the erosion of standards within the company in months before J6, decisions by high-ranking executives to violate their own policies, and more, against the backdrop of ongoing, documented interaction with federal agencies.
— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) December 9, 2022
Taibbi provides internal Twitter messages indicating that as the election approached, senior executives – perhaps under pressure from federal agencies, with whom they met more as time progressed – increasingly struggled with Twitter’s rules, and began to speak of “vios” (violations) as pretexts to do what they’d likely have done anyway.
As described in Twitter Files 2, a core group, working above and outside of Twitter’s standard content moderation rules, would make ad hoc decisions on VITs (Very Important Tweeters).
Messages from Yoel Roth (Head of Trust & Safety) show he met weekly with the FBI, DHS and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Regarding the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story ban, Roth told those agencies:
We blocked the NYP story, then unblocked it (but said the opposite)… comms is angry, reporters think we’re idiots… in short, FML (f*ck my life).
Based on alerts sent by the FBI, Roth flagged tweets with warning labels. Taibbi says he could not find any such requests from Trump’s team or Republicans:
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.
In addition to issues with Trump, Taibbi also recounts a long discussion about a joke made by Mike Huckabee about mailing in fake ballots and conversations promising to hit the actor James Woods “hard” in future, even though he had not violated any rules. Meanwhile, disputed pro-Biden tweets were approved.
Regarding Trump, Taibbi says that Twitter attached automated control “bots” to his account, which triggered automated moderation actions. Taibi says that all these bots and rules were abandoned on January 6.
The firm’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
Around 3:30 PST on Jan 6, Roth “bounced” (put in a 12 hr timeout) three of Trump’s tweets. A company-wide email was sent by Gadde explaining that future violations would result in a permanent suspension.
After Trump tweeted “Go home with love & in peace” mid-riot, Twitter staff wrote:
What the actual f*uck? Sorry, I actually got emotionally angry seeing that. Turns out I’m not a full robot. Who knew?
By the end of the first day, the top execs are still trying to apply rules. By the next day, they will contemplate a major change in approach.
Taibi says more files will be released over the coming days.