The first "Twitter Files" of 2023 dove into the tech giant's evolution from its resistance to its embrace of the intel community.
In the eleventh installment of Elon Musk's "Twitter Files," Substack writer Matt Taibbi reported about the "PR crisis" Twitter underwent in 2017 when Democrats pummeled the tech giant for its apparent inaction of investigating Russian influence on the platform as Facebook was public with uprooting suspicious foreign accounts following the 2016 presidential election.
Amid pressure, Twitter launched a "Russia Task Force" to investigate whether the Kremlin had such a foothold on the platform, even after it had suspended several suspected Russia-linked accounts.
"First round of RU investigation… 15 high risk accounts, 3 of which have connections with Russia, although 2 are RT," an October 2017 memo shared by Taibbi read at the time.
Another read, "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."
Taibbi cited a report from BuzzFeed News that had flagged 45 "fake propaganda accounts" to Twitter, which were later suspended, and "leaks" from Congress published in the media and proposed legislation from lawmakers that further pressured the tech giant to take action.
"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," Taibbi wrote Tuesday.
He then highlighted the discrepancy between Twitter's "external" policy, which was that it would remove content "in our soul discretion," while its "internal guidance" read that "any user identified by the U.S. intelligence community as a state-sponsored entity conducting cyber operations against targets associated with U.S. or other elections… shall not be allowed to advertise on Twitter."
"We will not be reverting to the status quo," Twitter's then-Public Policy VP Colin Crowell told his colleagues at the time.
Each installment of the "Twitter Files" was shared by the journalists in lengthy Twitter threads addressing various controversies. Taibbi went viral with the first installment in early December with his "Twitter Files" focusing on Twitter's internal discussions leading to it censor the Hunter Biden laptop story during the 2020 presidential election, with some officials struggling to explain how it violated its "hacked materials" policies.
It was later revealed that the first batch of "Twitter Files" was vetted without Musk's knowledge by Twitter deputy general counsel Jim Baker, who previously served as the FBI's general counsel and was involved in the Russia probe. Musk fired Baker shortly thereafter.
Baker was swept up Taibbi's reporting about the suppression of the Hunter Biden story, telling his colleagues at the time, "I support the conclusion that we need more facts to assess whether the materials were hacked" but added, "it's reasonable for us to assume that they may have been and that caution is warranted."
Additionally, Taibbi initially reported, "Although several sources recalled hearing about a ‘general’ warning from federal law enforcement that summer about possible foreign hacks, there’s no evidence - that I've seen - of any government involvement in the laptop story." It is unclear whether Baker's involvement in vetting the "Twitter Files" led Taibbi to draw that conclusion and whether Baker omitted files that would have shown the federal government intervening in Twitter's suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story.
The second installment published by The Free Press editor Bari Weiss revealed Twitter's "blacklisting" of prominent conservatives, including Fox News host Dan Bongino, Turning Point USA's Charlie Kirk, as well as Stanford University's Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a longstanding opponent of COVID groupthink during the pandemic who expressed opposition to lockdowns.
Internal communications also reveal Twitter staffers admitting that the popular right-wing account Libs of TikTok never violated its "hateful conduct" policy despite being punished several times for allegedly doing so.
Those revelations appear to contradict what former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told Congress in 2018, when he testified under oath that Twitter did not censor or shadowban conservatives.
The third, fourth and fifth installments of the "Twitter Files" focused on the permanent suspension of former President Trump around the Capitol riot in January 2021.
Taibbi reported how Twitter circulated election-related tweets from various users leading up to the 2020 election that were "flagged" by the FBI as being problematic.
Independent writer Michael Shellenberger revealed that Dorsey was phoning it in as he was on vacation while his deputies were pushing to deplatform Trump, with Twitter's former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth particularly spearheading efforts to censor other users pertaining to tweets about the 2020 election. It became known that Roth met on a weekly basis with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the office of the Director of National Inteligence in the weeks leading up to the election.
Weiss addressed the pressure Twitter management was facing from its employees who called for Trump's permanent suspension, though the Free Press editor also revealed several Twitter staffers who enforce policies did not believe Trump's tweets from Jan. 6 actually violated its rules.
However, it was Vijaya Gadde, then-Twitter's head legal chief, who asked if Trump's tweets could be "coded incitement to further violence." Moments later, the so-called "scaled enforcement team" suggested that based on how Twitter interprets Trump's tweets, it could violate the violence incitement policies.
Part six of the "Twitter Files" put a spotlight on Twitter's close ties with the FBI. Taibbi alleged the law enforcement agency was acting like a "subsidiary" of the tech giant, revealing communications that showed FBI agents systemically flagged Twitter users for tweets that included "possible violative content" pertaining to the election.
In response to the "Twitter Files," a spokesperson for the FBI told Fox News Digital, "The FBI regularly engages with private sector entities to provide information specific to identified foreign malign influence actors’ subversive, undeclared, covert, or criminal activities. Private sector entities independently make decisions about what, if any, action they take on their platforms and for their customers after the FBI has notified them."
The FBI's routine contact with Twitter regarding users that would ultimately face punishment for their tweets has raised major flags about potential First Amendment violations.
In part seven, Shellenberger framed the Twitter's coziness with the FBI in the context of the Hunter Biden laptop story, showing the FBI's requests for Twitter to share sensitive data of its users, which Twitter refused to give, and the agency's repeated inquiries into whether Twitter has seen foreign activity leading up to the 2020 election, something Twitter at the time said it hadn't. On Oct. 13, 2020, just one day before the New York Post broke its Hunter Biden story that was quickly censored, Twitter received ten unknown documents from the FBI through its secure one-way Teleport channel.
One email from February 2021 shows the FBI paid Twitter over $3.4 million since October 2019 over the course of their partnership, as Twitter's policies seek reimbursements when it comes to producing information as part of a legal process.
Roth had even participated in what was dubbed the "Hack-and-Dump Working Group" with the Aspen Institute in September 2020 to elaborately simulate how the media and Big Tech should handle something like the Hunter Biden laptop.
The FBI remained defiant amid criticism, telling Fox News in a statement "The correspondence between the FBI and Twitter show nothing more than examples of our traditional, longstanding and ongoing federal government and private sector engagements, which involve numerous companies over multiple sectors and industries. As evidenced in the correspondence, the FBI provides critical information to the private sector in an effort to allow them to protect themselves and their customers… It is unfortunate that conspiracy theorists and others are feeding the American public misinformation with the sole purpose of attempting to discredit the agency."
Part eight, shared by Intercept investigative reporter Lee Fang, exposed Twitter's assistance in the Pentagon's foreign influencing campaigns, allowing the military to use covert accounts to push out propaganda overseas despite it being against Twitter's own policies. Taibbi separately reported in the ninth installment about Twitter's constant interactions with "OGAs" (other government agencies) including the CIA.
The tenth batch of Twitter Files, this time reported by writer David Zweig, focused on COVID and the platform's efforts to enforce its so-called "misinformation" policy, reporting "both the Trump and Biden administrations directly pressed Twitter executives to moderate the platform’s pandemic content according to their wishes." Zweig highlighted a memo written by Lauren Culbertson, Twitter’s Head of U.S. Public Policy, who claimed the Biden team was "very angry" about Twitter not taking action to "de-platform" various accounts based on meetings with the White House. Musk teased there's "much more" Twitter Files to reveal in 2023 particularly about COVID and how top doctors and scientists were "actively suppressed on Twitter," presumably for going against the White House-approved narrative.