Originally Published December 14, 2022
Ever since Elon Musk bought Twitter, the political Right waited with bated breath to be vindicated for all the things that they have accused Twitter of being – an arm of the Democratic Party. The early indicators did not disappoint, as Musk was able to successfully lay off three quarters of the staff with no interruption of service and discovered a closet filled with sweatshirts adorned with the phrase #StayWoke. The real treasure trove came in the form of the Twitter Files, a data dump of internal emails and chats about silencing or outright banning a variety of voices from the Right. Here is a breakdown of what we have learned so far.
Twitter Files Part 1: The Hunter Biden Laptop
The first batch of Twitter files were dissected by Matt Taibbi, a former Rolling Stone journalist. He showed that the original logic for adding tools for Twitter to control speech was to “combat the likes of spam and financial fraudsters.” However, once the tools for controlling speech became available, it was used to silence far more than spam.
Twitter has the ability to stop anyone from reaching an audience, even if they don’t block them or kick them off the site. The list of tweets you see is a curated list based on what Twitter thinks you’re most interested in. If they want, they can simply press a button and an account that normally receives “engagement” (views, likes, comments, and retweets) in the thousands sees that same engagement drop down to a few dozen, or less.
“Slowly, over time, Twitter staff and executives began to find more and more uses for these tools. Outsiders began petitioning the company to manipulate speech as well: first a little, then more often, then constantly,” Taibbi said. “By 2020, requests from connected actors to delete tweets were routine. One executive would write to another: ‘More to review from the Biden team.’ The reply would come back: ‘Handled.’”
The files showed that when the Hunter Biden laptop story was posted on Twitter by the NewYork Post, “Twitter took extraordinary steps to suppress the story, removing links and posting warnings that it may be ‘unsafe,’” Taibbi continued. “They even blocked its transmission via direct message, a tool hitherto reserved for extreme cases, e.g. child pornography.” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was locked out of her account for tweeting about the story, prompting the Trump team to send a furious letter saying, “At least pretend to care for the next 20 days.”
The internal discussions featured a few players who seem to be prominent in the Twitter files going forward. Former head of legal, policy, and trust Vijaya Gadde and former trust and safety chief Yoel Roth are seemingly behind most of the decision making. It seems like then-CEO Jack Dorsey was largely unaware of what was going on in his own company. In the internal discussions, they realized that they were wrong in blocking the reporting on the Hunter Biden Laptop story, but the response was essentially to err on the side of…continuing to err.
The Delay: The Jim Baker Saga
Before Part 2 of the Twitter Files was released, there was a delay. It turns out that the man in charge of releasing the files to the journalists who would look through them and report on them was actually one of the people working to suppress the information in the first place, a man by the name of Jim Baker.
Baker was the former FBI general counsel involved in Russia-related investigations into former President Donald Trump. He was also in charge of vetting the files that were intended to be released to Bari Weiss, formerly of The New York Times. When Weiss heard who was supposed to be sending her the files, she reacted with shock. “My jaw hit the floor,” she said.
Matt Taibbi explained the controversy and delay in another series of tweets. “Baker is a controversial figure. He has been something of a Zelig of FBI controversies dating back to 2016, from the Steele Dossier to the Alfa-Server mess. He resigned in 2018 after an investigation into leaks to the press,” Taibbi continued. “The news that Baker was reviewing the ‘Twitter files’ surprised everyone involved, to say the least. New Twitter chief Elon Musk acted quickly to ‘exit’ Baker Tuesday.”
Twitter Files, Part 2: How the Blacklists Were Built
After the Baker debacle, Weiss was back on track and revealed, through a series of screenshots of internal programs and conversations, how Twitter blacklisted certain profiles.
There were specific flags put on accounts that would prevent certain tweets from trending, stop certain accounts from being seen, and even hide trending topics from receiving more attention. The highest level of these layers of censorship was the “Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support,” known as “SIP-PES.”
As per Weiss, “This secret group included Head of Legal, Policy, and Trust (Vijaya Gadde), the Global Head of Trust & Safety (Yoel Roth), subsequent CEOs Jack Dorsey and Parag Agrawal, and others.” Weiss continued, “This is where the biggest, most politically sensitive decisions got made. ‘Think high follower account, controversial,’ another Twitter employee told us. For these, ‘there would be no ticket or anything.’” This means that there didn’t need to be a complaint, an account was blocked or banned based on the whims of a few, regardless of written Twitter policy. The account would be blocked, the explanation would come later, if at all.
A frequent recipient of this treatment was an account called “LibsofTikTok,” run by an Orthodox Jewish woman in Brooklyn named Chaya Raichik. Raichik has been a target of the media because she takes posts made by the most radical leftwingers and re-posts them, thus shining daylight on the craziest of the crazy. In the files, Weiss showed how Libs of TikTok was placed on a “Trends Blacklist” and that a special note was placed on the account that said action could not be taken on the account “without consulting with SIP-PES.” The account was placed on multiple seven-day suspensions, even though internal conversations admit that the account did not violate Twitter rules. Weiss also reminded everyone that the tweets that doxed Raichik, exposing her address and a picture of her house, were never taken off Twitter, even though that IS a violation of Twitter rules.
Twitter Files, Part 3: Leading Up to Banning Trump
Matt Taibbi was back with the next batch of Twitter Files, where he showed how Twitter collaborated with US Government Agencies.
In December 2020, then-Twitter Policy Director Nick Pickles appeared to admit that the platform was meeting officials from the FBI and DHS regarding some of the actions that it was taking. Yoel Roth confirmed in an internal message that he was meeting with the FBI, DHS, and Director of National Intelligence about election security and about the Hunter Biden Laptop story. Messages also confirm that Roth had a weekly meeting with these government agencies.
The Twitter team used these meetings to create a new label, which they began to apply with earnest. Every time a question came up about the results of the election, a “Learn how voting is safe and secure” label would be applied, which stopped the tweet from being liked, shared or commented on. Twitter was eager to apply this to Trump, even if the “offending” tweet was factually accurate. Internal screenshots show multiple occasions where Twitter employees were looking to apply the label to Trump’s tweets before they fact-checked them. By all indications, Roth was happy with what was happening, even though tweets that received this label did not violate Twitter rules.
The files also showed that Twitter was taking revenge tactics on anyone who questioned their actions. Actor James Woods angrily tweeted that Twitter was suppressing the President, and Twitter planned to take punitive action against him. Meanwhile, pro-Biden tweets that claimed that Trump was trying to steal the election, without evidence, were left without being suppressed.
Taibbi explains how there was a lot of discussion over certain words that would automatically reduce dissemination – which words would trigger that and which could not. This was all being done in December of 2020, before the events of January 6. “There is no way to follow the frenzied exchanges among Twitter personnel from between January 6 and January 8 without knowing the basics of the company’s vast lexicon of acronyms and Orwellian unwords,” Taibbi wrote. “This is all necessary background to J6. Before the riots, the company was engaged in an inherently insane/impossible project, trying to create an ever-expanding, ostensibly rational set of rules to regulate every conceivable speech situation that might arise between humans.”
“This project was preposterous, yet its leaders were unable to see this, having become infected with groupthink, coming to believe – sincerely – that it was Twitter’s responsibility to control, as much as possible, what people could talk about, how often, and with whom,” he continued.
Twitter Files, Part 4: More Background
The fourth set of files was mostly confirmation of information we already had. Blogger Michael Shellenberger showed the pressure that Twitter was getting to ban Trump. CEO Jack Dorsey was on vacation, and everyone who was left in charge was “overwhelmingly progressive.”
Internal conversations showed that Yoel Roth used his personal hatred of conservatives (e.g., he said in 2017 that there were “actual Nazis in the White House”) to help mold policy regarding Trump via conversations between him and other, unnamed Twitter employees. At the same time, “Former First Lady @michelleobama, tech journalist Kara Swisher, ADL, high-tech VC Chris Sacca, and many others, publicly call on Twitter to permanently ban Trump,” Shellenberger writes, with the corresponding screenshots.
In the internal messages, it is revealed that Twitter had a five-strike permanent ban policy, and that Trump only had one strike. Despite that, Dorsey and Roth were prepared to permanently ban Trump after giving him a 12-hour suspension. Dorsey and Roth were preparing to permanently ban Trump, given any reason.
Twitter Files, Part 5: Trump Is Banned
Bari Weiss returns for the next round of Twitter files, and before she revealed the internal conversations, she provided a background of how Twitter treats world leaders.
The last two Trump tweets before his ban were daily, innocuous, and did not violate Twitter policy. Weiss compared this to a number of accounts, including the Ayatollah Khamenei referring to Israel as a “cancerous tumor” (tweet was not deleted nor account banned), the former Malaysian Prime Minister saying Muslims have a “right” to “kill millions of French people (tweet deleted, account not banned), President of Nigeria inciting violence (not banned), and the Ethiopian Prime Minister inciting violence (not banned).
After Twitter determined that Trump was not in violation of its policies, Vijaya Gadde asked if it was “coded incitement to further violence.” Internal messages compared Trump to Hitler or a mass shooter, and Twitter held an all hands meeting about the subject. An hour later, twitter banned Trump to the massive excitement from Twitter staff, who sent each other messages congratulating themselves and declaring themselves a part of history.
After that, and feeling invincible, Twitter employees immediately got to work on “medical misinformation.”
This concludes the Twitter files that were revealed so far. There was incredible work by the team over at The Free Press (TheFP.com) to sift through an unknowable amount of information in order to provide this information to the public. On Monday night, Elon Musk dissolved the Twitter Trust and Safety Council.