AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
Over the last several weeks, Twitter’s new owner and CEO Elon Musk has granted a number of journalists access to internal Twitter documents and communications, revealing a shocking pattern of censorship and collusion between Twitter employees, Democrat politicians, and career bureaucrats at federal government agencies like the FBI. Known collectively as the “Twitter Files,” the series of bombshells, released in the format of extensive tweet threads, has confirmed long-held suspicions about the extent to which Twitter – and likely other social media companies as well – work to silence conservatives and censor stories that may be damaging to the left, from the Hunter Biden laptop scandal to the origins of COVID-19.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far, and why it’s important.
The Twitter Files Part One – The Birth of a Censorship Regime
In the first installment of the Twitter Files on December 2, Matt Taibbi outlined the origins of Twitter’s censorship operation, detailing how “content moderation” tools evolved into a way for Twitter’s politically left-wing employees to silence disfavored content – often without the knowledge of executives like CEO Jack Dorsey.
The Hunter Biden laptop story represented an inflection point for Twitter’s censorship regime. Rather than an individual tweet or account, Twitter staff worked to scrub an entire narrative from the platform – all without any reason to believe that the story was actually false. Multiple Twitter employees and even a Democratic congressman, Ro Khanna, raised concerns about the move, only to be rebuffed by Twitter executives like former Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth and former Deputy General Counsel Jim Baker, who used to be the General Counsel of the FBI.
The clear implication is that Twitter executives used baseless concerns about “hacked materials” to censor the story because it might have been fatal to Joe Biden’s election chances.
The Twitter Files Part Two – Twitter’s Secret Blacklists
On December 8, Bari Weiss released Part Two of the Twitter Files, which details how “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.”
After years of Twitter executives denying the practice of so-called “shadow banning,” or secretly suppressing certain accounts and posts, Weiss’s reporting confirmed that the practice was even more organized and widespread than previously thought. Internal documents show that many accounts like “libsoftiktok” and conservative personalities like Charlie Kirk were blacklisted without even violating any specific Twitter policies. In another instance, Stanford’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya was placed on a “trends blacklist” for tweeting that COVID lockdowns would harm children.
Parts three and four of the Twitter Files – released on December 9 and 10 by Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger, respectively – detail the build-up to the watershed moment of President Trump’s banishment from the platform.
In Part Three, Taibbi provides the first evidence of direct coordination on censorship actions between Twitter employees and career bureaucrats at government agencies like the FBI. In one screenshotted communication, Yoel Roth alludes to having weekly meetings with the FBI, DHS, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), specifically referencing conversations about the Hunter Biden laptop story. With the support of the intelligence community, Twitter employees laid the groundwork to censor that story and any other perceived “threats” to the legitimacy of the 2020 election – including posts by President Trump himself.
In Part Four, Shellenberger details how, following January 6th, Twitter changed its entire user agreement policy to justify permanently banning President Trump. In one communication to a sales executive, Yoel Roth says explicitly that “we’re changing our public interest approach for his [Trump’s] account.” As Twitter moved to ban Trump, other employees engaged in a pattern of seemingly haphazard and ad hoc decisions to suspend accounts for content that moderators merely found objectionable, but did not violate any specific Twitter policy.
The Twitter Files Part Five – Deplatforming a Sitting President
Part Five of the Twitter Files, released on December 12 by Bari Weiss, provides a play-by-play of the decision to permanently ban President Trump on January 8, 2021. As internal Slack communications show, Twitter’s rank-and-file employees had talked among one another about their desire to permanently ban Trump for months leading up to the 2020 election. In one instance, Twitter’s “scaled enforcement team” collectively referred to Trump as “the leader of a terrorist group responsible for violence/deaths comparable to the Christchurch shooter or Hitler.” Following January 6, employees began heavily lobbying executives like Yoel Roth and Twitter General Counsel Vijaya Gadde directly to lock Trump’s account.
But there was a problem – Trump had not violated any Twitter policy. In Slack communications, multiple employees who reviewed Trump’s tweets the morning of January 8 found “no violations.”
However, less than 90 minutes after that determination, Gadde posted in a Slack channel that a Trump tweet which read “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,” could be interpreted as “coded incitement to further violence.” Less than three hours later, Trump had been permanently banned “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
Importantly, as Weiss points out, Twitter has allowed other world leaders like Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who called Israel “a malignant cancerous tumor,” and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who called on citizens to take up arms against the Tigray region, to remain on the platform. Further, Twitter refused to even remove the posts in question, merely putting a notice on them that while the tweet violated Twitter Rules, it “may be in the public’s interest” for the post to remain accessible.
As Weiss aptly puts it, “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.”
The Twitter Files Part Six – FBI Collusion
In Part Six of the Twitter Files, released on December 16, Matt Taibbi recounts how “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,” Taibbi writes. “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.” In a clear sign of just how closely the FBI worked with Twitter’s censorship team, one communication from an FBI source to a Twitter executive explicitly said that Twitter employees should be allowed to view classified information.
At the behest of bureaucrats at the FBI, DHS, and other government agencies, Twitter “content moderators” often scoured “flagged” accounts to look for any reason to ban them. In many cases, obscure users with almost no followers were banned for spreading supposed “election misinformation,” mainly accounts that were clearly satirical in nature and were posting what were obviously jokes.
Notably, it was the thoroughly debunked 2016 “Russian collusion” narrative which served as the basis for this unholy alliance between career government bureaucrats and Big Tech.
In many cases, the FBI and DHS also farmed out the work of identifying posts and accounts to censor to left-wing think tanks and other private-sector contractors – in effect funneling massive amounts of taxpayer dollars to shadowy entities to censor conservative voices online.
The Twitter Files Part Seven – Memory-Holing the Hunter Biden Laptop
On December 19, Michael Shellenberger released Part Seven of the Twitter Files, detailing “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.”
The night before the bombshell Post story dropped, FBI Special Agent Elvis Chan sent a series of documents to Yoel Roth suggesting that the story was part of a Russian “hack and leak” operation. In fact, FBI officials had been “priming” Roth and other Twitter executives for months to dismiss any negative information about Hunter Biden or the Biden family’s business dealings as a Russian intelligence operation.
Notably, Roth admitted in an internal communication that the Post story “isn’t clearly violative of our Hacked Materials Policy, nor is it clearly in violation of anything else.” But Jim Baker – Twitter’s General Counsel, who happened to play a central role in making the case to investigate Donald Trump while he was at the FBI, and has himself been investigated for leaking information to the media – insisted that the laptop materials were “either faked, hacked, or both.”
As Shellenberger writes, “it’s inconceivable Baker believed the Hunter Biden emails were either fake or hacked.” But Twitter’s executives fully bought into Baker’s story, despite admittedly discovering no unusual Russian activity on the app, and the FBI producing exactly zero evidence that the story was indeed the result of a Russian “hack and leak” scheme.
“In the end,” Shellenberger says, “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.”
The Twitter Files Part Eight – The Pentagon’s Secret PsyOp Campaign
Part Eight of the Twitter Files, released on December 20 by Lee Fang, lays out how Twitter directly assisted the U.S. military’s online influence operations “despite promises to shut down covert state-run propaganda networks.”
The story here is how downright deceitful Twitter was about its involvement with government-backed manipulation of online narratives. In testimony to Congress, Twitter executives claimed that they were committed to identifying and shutting down “covert information operations and deceptive propaganda.” But as Fang writes, “behind the scenes, Twitter gave approval & special protection to the U.S. military’s online psychological influence ops.”
When the operation was finally exposed in August 2022 by a Stanford Internet Observatory report, Twitter worked overtime behind the scenes to cover up their involvement in it. They made a major public spectacle of banning the Pentagon accounts in the interest of “neutrality” and adhering to their own policies. Until the release of the Twitter Files, the public had no knowledge that Twitter executives actually had known about the accounts for years and had provided them immunity from the platform’s standards on false information.
The Twitter Files Part Nine – More Federal Agencies Caught in Collusion Scandal
Matt Taibbi treated readers to an early Christmas present on December 24 with the release of Part Nine of the Twitter Files. After detailing the FBI’s involvement with Twitter’s censorship operation in Part Six, Taibbi outlines how the FBI often acted “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.”
Many top Twitter employees were former members of the intelligence community. In addition to Twitter General Counsel Jim Baker, nearly a half-dozen other executives also had ties to the FBI. Another top executive came from the CIA.
These executives appear to have maintained close ties to their former agencies. So much so, in fact, that in the lead up to the 2020 election, officials at the FBI, CIA, and other agencies were sending Twitter hundreds of posts and accounts per day to ban.
Despite the censorship operation ostensibly being focused on foreign election interference, many of these posts were from domestic accounts. Government agencies pressured Twitter employees to find links between U.S.-based accounts and Russia or other U.S. adversaries, even when none existed.
After the 2020 election, the intelligence community continued requesting that Twitter delete certain posts and ban certain accounts, for everything from supporting the Maduro regime in Venezuela to anti-Ukraine posts following Russia’s invasion.
Part Nine of the Twitter Files also unearths communications showing that Twitter wasn’t alone in cooperating with government agencies – Facebook, Microsoft, Verizon, Reddit, even Pinterest, and many others appear to have similar relationships with the intelligence community.
The Twitter Files Part Ten – How Twitter Rigged the COVID Debate
On December 26, David Zweig outlined in Part Ten of the Twitter Files how Twitter discredited doctors and other health experts, suppressed ordinary users, and worked hand-in-glove with the government to promote an “accepted” narrative on COVID-19.
According to Zweig, government bureaucrats during both the Trump and Biden administrations “pressured Twitter and other social media platforms to elevate certain content and suppress other content about Covid-19.”
Of specific concern for the Biden administration were so-called “anti-vaxxer” accounts, or users who questioned the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines. When Twitter refused to ban some of the accounts as requested, Biden administration officials became “very angry” and “aggressive.” Ironically, it was the censors at Twitter who showed more concern for free speech rights than Biden administration officials constitutionally sworn to uphold them.
By and large, however, Twitter caved to government demands, and began censoring content that dissented from the established narrative on COVID-19. In many cases, the accounts of doctors “were suspended both for tweeting opinions and demonstrably true information.”
In one case, Dr. Martin Kulldorff, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, tweeted his expert opinion that everyone did not have to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity from COVID-19. But the post was slapped with a “misleading” label and replies to it were shut off, effectively silencing Kulldorff.
In another case from before the 2020 election, following a bout with COVID-19, former President Trump tweeted “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.” In an email to Yoel Roth and senior legal executive Stacia Cardille, Jim Baker asks why the tweet isn’t a violation of Twitter’s “COVID misinformation” policy. In a hilarious if deeply alarming reply, Yoel Roth has to explain to Baker why a “broad, optimistic statement” isn’t misinformation.
What’s worth considering in the aftermath of COVID is how public policy and pandemic response might have differed if an actual open debate had been allowed to take place online – the only place people were still conversing once the pandemic set in. Might there have been more concern about the effects of school closures on children? Might parents have been more set at ease about the relatively low risks of COVID to the young? Working in coordination with government officials, Twitter and other social media networks silenced all those conversations.
There appears to be much more still to come from the Twitter Files. As Matt Taibbi noted, the trove of documents and communications is like a massive haystack that Musk’s chosen band of journalists are still digging through.
But one pattern we’ve seen so far is that as time has gone on, the revelations have only gotten more damning for those involved. While the first edition of the Twitter Files was panned by many on the left and the right for failing to produce a “smoking gun,” subsequent releases have provided a litany of shocking evidence exposing the complex web of coordination between Big Tech, Democrat politicians, and bureaucrats across the federal government.
We are still a long way from connecting all the threads revealed by the Twitter Files. The slow burn nature of the reporting has also blunted some of the “splashy” effect that would have otherwise propelled such revelations into the mainstream. But nonetheless, the Twitter Files represent the first real insights into how the left’s censorship machine works, and may just lay the groundwork for how to dismantle it.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_.