For the past few weeks, journalists have had access to Twitter’s internal files. These files shed light on how the social media company worked with the government and within their own political biases to craft narratives and shift the social landscape to their own favor. Hundreds of millions of people use Twitter directly per month, but that is not where this problem ends. Twitter has become so ubiquitous that it shapes cable, network, and online media coverage. Donald Trump’s presidency and his subsequent downfall could be attributed to Twitter.
The FBI was caught up in the Twitter files release, as a recent batch showed coordination between the two entities that made it seem like Twitter was a direct subsidiary of the Bureau instead of a site that merely sends out messages that are up to 280 characters long. As Matt Taibbi, who has been at the forefront of this story, states, “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?”
Taibbi goes on to say that the State Department, Pentagon, and the CIA all had working relationships with Twitter. It became so consistent that Twitter executives were forgetting which government agency they were meeting with. Twitter was not the only tech firm that the government was in bed with. Taibbi says that “Facebook, Microsoft, Verizon, Reddit, even Pinterest, and many others. Industry players also held regular meetings without government.”
This level of coordination and collusion is troubling, given the requests that these government organizations made. They would send lists of requests, especially leading up to the 2020 election, for Twitter to handle. The FBI “became conduit for mountains of domestic moderation requests, from state governments, even local police” and “Email after email came from the San Francisco office heading into the election, often adorned with an Excel attachment” of problem accounts. Twitter needed to create a way to handle all of the government requests. Taibbi goes into details on the requests that the government made to stop accounts, both in America and abroad. Agencies would use Twitter’s own policies as search parameters to find accounts to ban. The U.S. government was essentially acting as a law enforcement arm of Twitter, all on the dime of the taxpayer.
“The line between ‘misinformation’ and ‘distorting propaganda’ is thin,” Taibbi concluded. “Are we comfortable with so many companies receiving so many reports from a ‘more aggressive’ government?”
David Zweig then steps into the story with his own batch of Twitter files, entitled, “THE TWITTER FILES: HOW TWITTER RIGGED THE COVID DEBATE.” According to Bari Weiss of The Free Press, “David has spent three years reporting on Covid—specifically the underlying science, or lack thereof, behind many of our nation’s policies. For years he had noticed and criticized a bias not only in the mainstream media’s coverage of the pandemic, but also in the way it was presented on platforms like Twitter.”
Zweig accuses Twitter of three things. 1) Censoring info that was true but inconvenient to U.S. govt. policy. 2) Discrediting doctors and other experts who disagreed. 3) Suppressing ordinary users, including some sharing the CDC’s own data.
Zweig claims that “both the Trump and Biden administrations directly pressed Twitter executives to moderate the platform’s pandemic content according to their wishes.” Showing meeting notes, it showed how the Trump administration wanted Twitter to suppress concerns about panic buying and “runs on grocery stores” in the early days of the pandemic, even though it was true. When Biden took over, they focused on “high profile anti-vaxxer accounts.” The Biden team was angry with Twitter, and said so publicly. “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.”
Twitter had their marching orders; now they needed the process in which to implement it. As Zweig says, there were “three serious problems with Twitter’s process.” Machine learning and AI was still too crude. Outsourced contractors, like in the Philippines, had decision trees in which they made their moderating decisions. Yet they were being tasked with adjudicating topics like myocarditis, ivermectin, and mask effectiveness. These two sources of moderation were being trained by higher ups at Twitter, who were biased.
Zweig gives examples of doctors and journalists who were using sourced data, even from the CDC, that were labeled “Misleading” and were unable to be seen. Accounts were suspended because of these decisions.
Then there’s Trump’s tweets, which were consistently scrutinized by the Twitter higher ups. One example is when Trump said, “Don’t be afraid of Covid” when he had it. Jim Baker, Twitter’s Deputy General Counsel, asked Yoel Roth, Twitter Head of Trust & Safety, why the statement wasn’t “a violation of our Covid-19 policy.” In the reply email, it seems like Roth and co. were already discussing it, and decided that it fell outside the scope of their policy. Yet even though that particular Tweet wasn’t removed from the public, the notion that a simple “Don’t be afraid” message could be up for debate shows that Twitter has little interest in free speech.
Zweig ends with a question. “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?”
There’s no way to know.
By Moshe Hill