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.
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 (@ShellenbergerMD) 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: Part 7 – The FBI & the Hunter Biden Laptop
Musk, through Schellenberger, releases The Twitter Files 7: The FBI & the Hunter Biden Laptop. The documents aim to show that the FBI and the intelligence community (IC) discredited factual information about Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings both before and after The New York Post revealed the contents of his laptop on October 14, 2020.
1. TWITTER FILES: PART 7
The FBI & the Hunter Biden Laptop
How the FBI & intelligence community discredited factual information about Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings both after and *before* The New York Post revealed the contents of his laptop on October 14, 2020
— Michael Shellenberger (@ShellenbergerMD) December 19, 2022
Schellenberger recaps that Biden’s laptop was confiscated by the FBI on Dec 20, 2019, after the agency was alerted by JP Isaac, the owner of Delaware computer store, where Biden had left the laptop for repairs. Even though Isaac had discovered evidence of criminal activity, the FBI had still not contacted him by Aug 2020, so he contacted Rudy Giuliani, who is under FBI surveillance. In early October, Giuliani gives the information to the Post.
At 7pm. October 13, after learning that the Post will publish the story, Biden’s lawyer contacts Isaac. At 9.22pm, FBI Special Agent Elvis Chan sends ten documents to Yoel Roth, Head of Trust & Security at Twitter, through Teleporter, a secure, one-way communications channel from the FBI to Twitter.
The Post’s story is published on October 14. Despite it being factually correct, within hours, Twitter and other social media companies censor the Post’s article, preventing it from spreading and, more importantly, undermining its credibility in the minds of many Americans.
Schellenberger says that during 2020 the FBI and other law enforcement agencies repeatedly primed Roth to dismiss reports of Biden’s laptop as a Russian “hack and leak” operation. They also approached Facebook. Shellenberger shows documents where Chan says there was no new intelligence to support this conclusion. Twitter staff also noted that there was little Russian activity on the site.
[W]e haven’t yet identified activity that we’d typically refer to you (or even flag as interesting in the foreign influence context).
On several ocassions Roth pushed back on the FBI’s claims, and resisted FBI efforts to get Twitter to share data outside the normal search warant process. In July 2020, 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, Chan shares information with Roth relating to the Russian hacking organization, APT28, through Teleporter.
Schellenberger notes that there were so many ex-FBI staff at Twitter that they had their own Slack channel. High-profile hires included Jim Baker (Head Counsel), who played a central role in making the case internally for an investigation of Donald Trump, and Dawn Burton (Director of Strategy), the former dep. chief of staff to FBI head James Comey, who initiated the investigation of Trump.
In Sept 2020, Roth participated in an Aspen Institute “tabletop exercise” on a potential “Hack-and-Dump” operation relating to Hunter Biden. Schellenberger says 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 Sept 15, 2020 the FBI’s Laura Dehmlow, who heads up the Foreign Influence Task Force, and Chan, request to give a classified briefing for Baker, without any other Twitter staff, such as Roth, present.
On Oct 14, shortly after The Post publishes the laptop story, Roth says:
It isn’t clearly violative of our Hacked Materials Policy, nor is it clearly in violation of anything else…My personal view on this, unsubstantiated by hard evidence as yet, is that this feels a lot like a somewhat subtle leak operation.
The same day and the next, in response to Roth, Baker repeatedly insists that the Biden materials were either faked, hacked, or both, and a violation of Twitter policy. Schellenberger:
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.
By 10am, Oct 15, Roth accepts the hacking 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 (and was coincidentally reviewed in a very invasive way by someone who coincidentally then handed the materials to Rudy Giuliani). Given the severe risks we saw in this space in 2016, we’re recommending a warning + deamplification pending further information.
In Dec. 2020, Baker and his colleagues sent a note of thanks to the FBI for its work.
Schellenberger notes that the FBI’s influence campaign may have been helped by the fact that it paid Twitter over $3 million for its staff time from Oct 2019.
The Twitter Files 11: How Twitter Let the Intelligence Community In
Musk, through Taibbi, releases The Twitter Files: How Twitter Let the Intelligence Community In, which further details Twitter’s relationship with Intellignce angencies, such as the FBI.
1.THREAD: The Twitter Files
How Twitter Let the Intelligence Community In
— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) January 3, 2023
Taibbi says that in August 2017, when Facebook decided to suspend 300 accounts with “suspected Russian origin”, that Twitter’s leaders were sure they didn’t have a Russia problem, noting that while Facebook had issues with “hundreds of accounts”, Twitter only had issues with around 25. The company’s PR strategy was to deflect to Facebook’s problems. Public Policy VP Colin Crowell:
Twitter is not the focus of inquiry into Russian election meddling right now – the spotlight is on FB
In September 2017, after a manual examination, Twitter informed the senate it suspended 22 possibel Russian accoutns and 179 others with “possible links” to those. 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.”
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.
Cromwell also said that Democracts 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.
Twitter formed a “Russia Task Force” to proactively self-investigate. Bu despite forming a “Russia Taks fForce”, which worked with data shared form Facebook, investigatinge accounts supposedly tied to Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), the research came to nothing.
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 14, 2017: First round of RU investigation… 15 high risk accounts, 3 of which have connections with Russia, although 2 are RT.
Oct 20. 2017: Built new version of the model that is lower precision but higher recall which allows to catch more items. We aren’t seeing substantially more suspicious accounts. We expect to find ~20 with a small amount of spend.
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.
According to Taibbi, the Taks Force’s failure deepened the company’s PR crisis: Following Warner’s press conference, stories sourced to the Intel Committee “poured” into the news, inlcuding a story Politico that said “Twitter deleted data potentially crucial to Russia probes.” Johns Hopkins Professor (and Intel Committee “expert”) Thomas Rid:
Were Twitter a contractor for the FSB… they could not have built a more effective disinformation platform.
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 said there was “Big interest in Politico article about deleted accounts.”
As this pressure rose, Taibbi says the company changed its tune and Twitter “pledged to work with them on their desire to legislate”. However, even as Twitter prepared to change its ads policy and remove RT and Sputnik to placate Washington, congress turned the heat up more, apparently leaking the larger, base list of 2700 accounts.
Reporters started to call Twitter about Russia links. Buzzfeed, working with the University of Sheffield, claimed to find a “new network” on Twitter that had “close connections to… Russian-linked bot accounts.” but the company internally did not want to endorse the Buzzfeed/Sheffield findings, saying “it will only embolden them”. Twitter apologised to the for the same accounts they’d initially told the Senate were not a problem.
Taibbi says this 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. The company settled on it’s prosture: 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.” Crowell, in an email to the company’s leaders:
We will not be reverting to the status quo.