The First Amendment prohibits the U.S. government from censoring speech. In this episode, drawing from internal Twitter documents known as “the Twitter files” and Congressional testimony from tech executives, former Twitter employees, and journalists, we examine the shocking formal system of censorship in which government employees are using their influence over private companies to indirectly censor speech in a way that they are clearly prohibited from doing directly.
*Correction: In the episode, Jen refers to Stacey Plaskett as a Representative from Florida; in fact, she is the delegate for the United States Virgin Islands’ at-large congressional district.
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Recommended Congressional Dish Episodes
The Twitter Files
“Capsule Summaries of all Twitter Files Threads to Date, With Links and a Glossary.” Matt Taibbi. Jan 4, 2023. Racket News.
“The Democrats’ Disastrous Miscalculation on Civil Liberties.” Matt Taibbi. Mar 12, 2023. Racket News.
“#1940 – Matt Taibbi.” Feb 13, 2023. The Joe Rogan Experience.
Hunter Biden Laptop Story
“13. They did the same to Facebook, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg. ‘The FBI basically came to us [and] was like, “Hey… you should be on high alert. We thought that there was a lot of Russian propaganda in 2016 election. There’s about to be some kind of dump similar to that”‘” [tweet]. Michael Shellenberger [@ShellenbergerMD]. Dec 19, 2022. Twitter.
Influence, Propaganda, and Censorship
“From the Twitter Files: Pfizer board member Scott Gottlieb secretly pressed Twitter to hide posts challenging his company’s massively profitable Covid jabs.” Alex Berenson. Jan 9, 2023. Unreported Truths.
“Twitter Aided the Pentagon in Its Covert Online Propaganda Campaign.” Lee Fang. December 20, 2022. The Intercept.
“Facebook, Twitter dismantle a U.S. influence campaign about Ukraine.” Aug 24, 2022. The Washington Post.
March 9, 2023
House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government
Matt Taibbi, Journalist
Michael Shellenberger, Author, Co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute and the California Peace Coalition
17:20 Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): In the run up to the 2020 Presidential election, FBI Special Agent Elvis Chan, in his deposition in Missouri versus Biden, said that he repeatedly, repeatedly, informed Twitter and other social media platforms of the likelihood of a hack and leak operation in the run up to that Presidential election. He did it even though there was no evidence. In fact, he said in his deposition that we hadn’t seen anything, no intrusions, no hack, yet he repeatedly told them something was common. Yoel Ross, Head of Trust and Safety at Twitter, testified that he had had regular meetings with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and other folks regarding election security. During these weekly meetings, federal law enforcement agencies communicated that they expected a hack and leak operation. The expectations of a hack and leak operation were discussed throughout 2020. And he was told they would occur in a period shortly before the 2020 Presidential election, likely in October. And finally, he said “I also learned in these meetings, that there were rumors that a hack and leak operation would involve Hunter Biden.” So what did the government tell him? A hack and leak operation was coming. How often did the government tell him this? Repeatedly for a year. When did the government say it was going to happen? October of 2020. And who did the government say it would involve? Hunter Biden.
19:35 Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): How did they know? Maybe it’s because they had the laptop and they had had it for a year.
21:50 Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): Finally, as if on cue, five days later on October 19, 51 former intel[ligence] officials signed a letter with a now famous sentence “the Biden laptop story has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” Something that was absolutely false.
25:25 Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI): And the Republicans have brought in two of Elon Musk’s public scribes to release cherry-picked, out-of-context emails and screenshots designed to promote his chosen narrative, Elon Musk’s chosen narrative, that is now being paroted by the Republicans, because the Republicans think that these witnesses will tell a story that’s going to help them out politically.
25:50 Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI): On Tuesday, the majority released an 18 page report claiming to show that the FTC is quote, “harassing” Twitter — oh my poor Twitter — including by seeking information about its interactions with individuals before us today. How did the report reach this conclusion? By showing two single paragraphs from a single demand letter, even though the report itself makes clear that there were numerous demand letters with numerous requests, none of which we’ve been able to see, that are more demand letters and more requests of Twitter.
28:05 Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI): Mr. Chairman, Americans can see through this. Musk is helping you out politically and you’re going out of your way to promote and protect him and to praise him for his work.
28:15 Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI): This isn’t just a matter of what data was given to these so-called journalists before us now.
31:35 Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI): Mr. Chairman, I’m not exaggerating when I say that you have called before you two witnesses who pose a direct threat to people who oppose them.
32:30 Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI): We know this is because at the first hearing, the Chairman claimed that big government and big tech colluded to shape and mold the narrative and suppress information and censor Americans. This is a false narrative. We’re engaging in false narratives here and we are going to tell the truth.
37:35 Michael Shellenberger: I recognize that the law allows Facebook, Twitter, and other private companies to moderate content on their platforms and I support the right of governments to communicate with the public, including to dispute inaccurate information, but government officials have been caught repeatedly pushing social media platforms to censor disfavored users and content. Often these acts of censorship threaten the legal protection social media companies need to exist, Section 230. If government officials are directing or facilitating such censorship, and as one law professor, it raises serious First Amendment questions. It is axiomatic that the government cannot do indirectly what it is prohibited from doing directly.
41:50 Matt Taibbi: My name is Matt Taibbi, I’ve been a reporter for 30 years and a staunch advocate of the First Amendment. Much of that time was spent at Rolling Stone magazine. Ranking Member Plaskett, I’m not a “so-called” journalist. I’ve won the National Magazine Award, the I.F Stone Award for Independent Journalism, and I’ve written 10 books, including four New York Times bestsellers.
45:35 Matt Taibbi: Ordinary Americans are not just being reported to Twitter for deamplification or deplatforming, but to firm’s like Pay Pal, digital advertisers like Xandr, and crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe. These companies can and do refuse service to law abiding people and businesses whose only crime is falling afoul of a distant, faceless, unaccountable, algorithmic judge.
44:00 Matt Taibbi: Again, Ranking Member Plaskett, I would note that the evidence of Twitter-government relationship includes lists of tens of thousands of names on both the left and right. The people affected include Trump supporters, but also left leaning sites like Consortium and Truthout, the leftist South American channel TeleSUR, the Yellow Vest movement. That, in fact, is a key point of the Twitter files, that it’s neither a left nor right issue.
44:40 Matt Taibbi: We learned Twitter, Facebook, Google and other companies developed a formal system for taking in moderation requests from every corner of government from the FBI, the DHS, the HHS, DOD, the Global Engagement Center at [the Department of] State, even the CIA. For every government agency scanning Twitter, there were perhaps 20 quasi private entities doing the same thing, including Stanford’s Election Integrity Partnership, Newsguard, the Global Disinformation Index, and many others, many taxpayer funded. A focus of this fast growing network, as Mike noted, is making lists of people whose opinions beliefs, associations, or sympathies are deemed misinformation, disinformation or malinformation. That last term is just a euphemism for true but inconvenient. Undeniably, the making of such lists is a form of digital McCarthyism.
1:01:00 Matt Taibbi: So, a great example of this is a report that the Global Engagement Center sent to Twitter and to members of the media and other platforms about what they called “the Pillars of Russian Disinformation.” Now, part of this report is what you would call, I think you would call, traditional hardcore intelligence gathering where they made a reasoned, evidence baseed case that certain sites were linked to Russian influence or linked to the Russian government. In addition to that, however, they also said that sites that quote, “generate their own momentum,” and have opinions that are in line with those accounts are part of a propaganda ecosystem. Now, this is just another word for guilt by association. And this is the problem with the whole idea of trying to identify which accounts are actually the Internet Research Agency and which ones are just people who follow those accounts or retweeted them. Twitter initially did not find more than a handful of IRA accounts. It wasn’t until they got into an argument with the Senate Select Intelligence Committee that they came back with a different answer.
1:06:00 Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL): Before you became Elon Musk’s handpicked journalists, and pardon the oxymoron, you stated this on Joe Rogan’s podcast about being spoon fed information. And I quote, “I think that’s true of any kind of journalism,” and you’ll see it behind me here. “I think that’s true of any kind of journalism. Once you start getting handed things, then you’ve lost. They have you at that point and you got to get out of that habit. You just can’t cross that line.” Do you still believe what you told Mr. Rogan? Yes or no? Yes or no? Matt Taibbi: Yes. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL): Good. Now, you crossed that line with the Twitter files. Matt Taibbi: No. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL): Elon Musk — It’s my time, please do not interrupt me. Crowd: [laughter] Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL): Elon Musk spoon fed you his cherry-picked information, which you must have suspected promotes a slanted viewpoint, or at the very least generates another right wing conspiracy theory.
1:11:20 Matt Taibbi: That moment on the Joe Rogan show, I was actually recounting a section from Seymour Hersh’s book, Reporter, where he described a scene where the CIA gave him a story and he was very uncomfortable. He said that “I, who had always gotten the secrets, was being handed the secrets.” Again, I’ve done lots of whistleblower stories. There’s always a balancing test that you make when you’re given material, and you’re always balancing newsworthiness versus the motives of your sources. In this case, the newsworthiness clearly outweighed any other considerations. I think everybody else who worked on the project agrees.
1:14:45 Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC): Richard Stengel, you know who that is? Matt Taibbi: Yes, he’s the former, the first head of the Global Engagement Center. Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC): I want the American people to hear from him for 30 seconds. Richard Stengel: Basically, every country creates their own narrative story. And, you know, my old job at the State Department was what people used to joke as the “chief propagandist” job. We haven’t talked about propaganda. Propaganda. I’m not against propaganda. Every country does it, and they have to do it to their own population.
1:24:20 Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): December 13, the very first letter that the FTC sends to Twitter after the Twitter files, 11 days after the first Twitter file, there have been five of them come out, the FTC’s first demand in that first letter after the Twitter files come out is identify all journalists. I’m quoting “identify all journalists and other members of the media” to whom Twitter worked with. You find that scary, Mr. Taibbi, that you got a federal government agency asking a private company who in the press are you talking with? Matt Taibbi: I do find it scary. I think it’s none of the government’s business which journalists a private company talks to and why. I think every journalist should be concerned about that. And the absence of interest in that issue by my fellow colleagues in the mainstream media is an indication of how low the business has sunk. There was once a real esprit de corps and camaraderie within Media. Whenever one of us was gone after, we all kind of rose to the challenge and supported — Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): It used to be, used to be the case. Matt Taibbi: Yeah, that is gone now.
1:28:50 Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI): How many emails did Mr. Musk give you access to? Michael Shellenberger: I mean, we went through thousands of emails. Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI): Did he give you access to all of the emails for the time period in which? Michael Shellenberger: We never had a single, I never had a single request denied. And not only that, but the amount of files that we were given were so voluminous that there was no way that anybody could have gone through them beforehand. And we never found an instance where there was any evidence that anything had been taken out. Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI): Okay. So you would believe that you have probably millions of emails and documents, right? That’s correct, would you say? Michael Shellenberger: I don’t know if — I think the number is less than that. Matt Taibbi: Millions sounds too high. Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI): Okay. 100,000? Matt Taibbi: That’s probably closer. Michael Shellenberger: Probably, yeah. Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI): So 100,000 that both of you were seeing.
1:37:10 Matt Taibbi: There were a couple of very telling emails that wepublished. One was by a lawyer named [Sasha Cardiel???], where the company was being so overwhelmed by requests from the FBI and in fact they, they gave each other a sort of digital High Five after one batch, saying “that was a monumental undertaking to clear all of these,” but she noted that she believed that the FBI was essentially doing word searches keyed to Twitter’s Terms of Service, looking for violations of the Terms of Service, specifically so that they could make recommendations along those lines, which we found interesting.
1:48:15 Michael Shellenberger: And we haven’t talked about Facebook, but we now know that we have the White House demanding that Facebook take down factual information and Facebook doing that.
1:48:25 Michael Shellenberger: And with Matt [Taibbi]’s thread this morning we saw the government contractors demanding the same thing of Twitter: accurate information, they said, that needed to be taken down in order to advance a narrative.
1:49:55 Matt Taibbi: You know, in conjunction with our own research, there’s a foundation, the Foundation for Freedom Online, which, you know, there’s a very telling video that they uncovered where the Director of Stanford’s Election Integrity Partnership (EIP) talks about how CISA, the DHS agency, didn’t have the capability to do election monitoring, and so that they kind of stepped in to “fill the gaps” legally before that capability could be amped up. And what we see in the Twitter files is that Twitter executives did not distinguish between DHS or CISA and this group EIP, for instance, we would see a communication that said, from CISA, escalated by EIP. So they were essentially identical in the eyes of the company. EIP is, by its own data, and this is in reference to what you brought up, Mr. Congressman, according to their own data, they significantly targeted more what they call disinformation on the right than on the left, by a factor I think of about ten to one. And I say that as not a Republican at all, it’s just the fact of what we’re looking at. So yes, we have come to the realization that this bright line that we imagine that exists between, say the FBI or the DHS, or the GEC and these private companies is illusory and that what’s more important is this constellation of kind of quasi private organizations that do this work.
1:52:10 Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): What was the first time that Mr. Musk approached you about writing the Twitter files? Matt Taibbi: Again, Congresswoman that would — Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): I just need a date, sir. Matt Taibbi: But I can’t give it to you, unfortunately, because this this is a question of sourcing, and I don’t give up… I’m a journalist, I don’t reveal my sources. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): It’s a question of chronology. Matt Taibbi: No, that’s a question of sourcing — Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): Earlier you said that someone had sent you, through the internet, some message about whether or not you would be interested in some information. Matt Taibbi: Yes. And I refer to that person as a source. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): So you’re not going to tell us when Musk first approached you? Matt Taibbi: Again, Congresswoman, you’re asking me, you’re asking a journalist to reveal a source. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): You consider Mr. Musk to be the direct source of all this? Matt Taibbi: No, now you’re trying to get me to say that he is the source. I just can’t answer — Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): Either he is or he isn’t. If you’re telling me you can’t answer because it’s your source, well, then the only logical conclusion is that he is in fact, your source. Matt Taibbi: Well, you’re free to conclude that. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): Well, sir, I just don’t understand. You can’t have it both ways. But let’s move on because — Unknown Representative 1: No, he can. He’s a journalist. Unknown Representative 2: He can’t, because either Musk is the source and he can’t talk about it, or Musk is not the source. And if Musk is not the source, then he can discuss [unintelligible] Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): No one has yielded, the gentlelady is out of order, you don’t get to speak — Multiple speakers: [Crosstalk] Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): The gentlelady is not recognized…[crosstalk]…he has not said that, what he has said is he’s not going to reveal his source. And the fact that Democrats are pressuring him to do so is such a violation of the First Amendment. Multiple speakers: [Crosstalk] Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): I have not yielded time to anybody. I want to reclaim my time. And I would ask the chairman to give me back some of the time because of the interruption. Mr. Chairman, I am asking you, if you will give me the seconds that I lost. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): We will give you that 10 seconds. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): Thank you. Now let’s talk about another item. When you responded to the ranking member, you said that you had free license to look at everything but yet you yourself posted on your…I guess it’s kind of like a web page…I don’t quite understand what Substack is, but what I can say is that “in exchange for the opportunity to cover a unique and explosive story, I had to agree to certain conditions.” What were those conditions? She asked you that question and you said you had none. But you yourself posted that you had conditions? Matt Taibbi: The conditions, as I’ve explained multiple times — Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): No sir, you have not explained, you told her in response to her question that you had no conditions. In fact, you used the word licensed, that you were free to look at all of them. All 100,000 emails. Matt Taibbi: The question was posed, was I free to to write about — Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): Sir, did you have any conditions? Matt Taibbi: The condition was that we publish — Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): Sir, did you have any conditions? Yes or no? A simple question. Matt Taibbi: Yes. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): All right. Could you tell us what conditions those were? Matt Taibbi: The conditions were an attribution of sources at Twitter and that we break any news on Twitter. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): But you didn’t break it on Twitter. Did you send the file that you released today to Twitter first? Matt Taibbi: Did I send the…actually I did, yes. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): Did you send it to Twitter first? Matt Taibbi: The Twitter files thread? Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): That was one of the conditions? Yes or no, sir. Matt Taibbi: The Twitter files thread actually did come out first. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): But sir, you said earlier that you had to attribute all the sources to Twitter first. What you released today, did you send that to Twitter first? Matt Taibbi: No, no, no, I post I posted it on Twitter Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): First. First, sir, or did you give it to the Chairman of the Committee or the staff of the Committee first? Matt Taibbi: Well, that’s not breaking the story, that’s giving…I did give — Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): So you gave all the information that you did not give to the Democrats, you gave it to the Republicans first, then you put it on Twitter? Matt Taibbi: Actually, no, the chronology is a little bit confused. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): Well then tell us what the chronology was. Matt Taibbi: I believe the thread came out first. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): Where? Matt Taibbi: On Twitter Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): On Twitter. So then you afterwards gave it to the Republicans, and not the Democrats? Matt Taibbi: Yes, because I’m submitting it for the record as my statement. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): Did you give it to him in advance? Matt Taibbi: I gave it to them today. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): You gave it to them today, but you still have not given anything to the Democrats. Well, I’ll move on.
1:57:20 Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): Now in your discussion, in your answer, you also said that you were invited by a friend, Bari Weiss? Michael Shellenberger: My friend, Bari Weiss. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): So this friend works for Twitter, or what is her….? Matt Taibbi: She’s a journalist. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): Sir, I didn’t ask you a question. I’m now asking Mr. Shellenberger a question. Michael Shellenberger: Yes, ma’am, Bari Weiss is a journalist. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): I’m sorry, sir? Michael Shellenberger: She’s a journalist. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): She’s a journalist. So you work in concert with her? Michael Shellenberger: Yeah. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): Do you know when she first was contacted by Mr. Musk? Michael Shellenberger: I don’t know. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): You don’t know. So you’re in this as a threesome?
2:00:10 Michael Shellenberger: Reading through the whole sweep of events, I do not know the extent to which the influence operation aimed at “pre-bunking” the Hunter Biden laptop was coordinated. I don’t know who all was involved. But what we saw was, you saw Aspen and Stanford, many months before then, saying don’t cover the material in the hack and leak without emphasizing the fact that it could be disinformation. Okay, so they’re priming journalists to not cover a future hack and leak in a way that journalists have long been trained to in the tradition of the Pentagon Papers, made famous by the Steven Spielberg movie. They were saying [to] cover the fact that it probably came from the Russians. Then you have the former General Counsel to the FBI, Jim Baker, and the former Deputy Chief of Staff to the FBI, both arriving at Twitter in the summer of 2020, which I find, what an interesting coincidence. Then, when the New York Post publishes its first article on October 14, it’s Jim Baker who makes the most strenuous argument within Twitter, multiple emails, multiple messages saying this doesn’t look real. There’s people, there’s intelligence experts, saying that this could be Russian disinformation. He is the most strenuous person inside Twitter arguing that it’s probably Russian disinformation. The internal evaluation by Yoel Roth, who testified in front of this committee, was that it was what it looked to be, which was that it was not a result of a hack and leak operation. And why did he think that? Because the New York Post had published the FBI subpoena taking the laptop in December of 2019. And they published the agreement that the computer store owner had with Hunter Biden that gave him permission, after he abandoned the laptop, to use it however he wanted. So there really wasn’t much doubt about the provenance of that laptop. But you had Jim Baker making a strenuous argument. And then, of course, you get to a few days after the October 14 release, you have the president of the United States echoing what these former intelligence community officials were saying, which is that it looked like a Russian influence operation. So they were claiming that the laptop was made public by the conspiracy theory that somehow the Russians got it. And basically, they convinced Yoel Roth of this wild hack and leak story that somehow the Russians stole it, got the information, gave us the computer, it was bizarre. So you read that chain of events, and it appears as though there is an organized influence operation to pre-bunk…. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): Why do you think they could predict the time, the method, and the person? Why could the FBI predict it? Not only did they predict this, they predicted it, so did the Aspen Institute, seemed like everyone was in the know saying, here’s what’s gonna happen, we can read the future. Why do you think, how do you think they were able to do that? Michael Shellenberger: I think the most important fact to know is that the FBI had that laptop in December 2019. They were also spying on Rudy Giuliani when he got the laptop and when he gave it to the New York Post. Now, maybe the FBI agents who are going to Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook and Twitter executives and warning of a hack and leak, potentially involving Hunter Biden, maybe those guys didn’t have anything to do with the guys that had the top. We don’t know that. I have to say, as a newcomer to this, as somebody that thought it was Russian disinformation in 2020, everybody I knew thought it was Russian disinformation, I was shocked to see that series of events going on. It looks to me like a deliberate influence operation. I don’t have the proof of it, but the circumstantial evidence is pretty disturbing.
2:14:30 Matt Taibbi: We found, just yesterday, a Tweet from the Virality Project at Stanford, which was partnered with a number of government agencies, and Twitter, where they talked explicitly about censoring stories of true vaccine side effects and other true stories that they felt encouraged hesitancy. Now the imp— Unknown Representative: So these were true. Matt Taibbi: Yes. So they use the word truth three times in this email, and what’s notable about this is that it reflects the fundamental misunderstanding of this whole disinformation complex, anti-disinformation complex. They believe that ordinary people can’t handle difficult truths. And so they think that they need minders to separate out things that are controversial or difficult for them, and that’s again, that’s totally contrary to what America is all about, I think.
2:17:30 Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY): Of course we all believe in the First Amendment, but the First Amendment applies to government prohibition of speech, not to private companies.
2:33:00 Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY): And even with, Twitter you cannot find actual evidence of any direct government censorship of any lawful speech.
2:33:20 Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): I’d ask unanimous consent to enter into the record the following email from Clarke Humphrey, Executive Office of the Presidency, White House Office, January 23, 2021. That’s the Biden Administration. 4:39am: “Hey folks,” this goes to Twitter, “Hey folks, wanted…” they used the term Mr. Goldman just used, “wanted to flag the below Tweet, and I’m wondering if we can get moving on the process for having it removed ASAP.”
2:35:40 Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA): He said the First Amendment applies to government censorship of speech and not private companies, but what we’re talking about and what the Chairman just illustrated is that what we have here and what your Twitter files show is the Federal government has partnered with private companies to censor and silence the speech of American citizens.
2:29:20 Matt Taibbi: In the first Twitter files, we saw an exchange between Representative Ro Khanna and Vijaya Gadde, where he’s trying to explain the basics of speech law in America and she’s completely, she seems completely unaware of what, for instance, New York Times v. Sullivan is. There are other cases like Bartnicki v. Vopper, which legalized the publication of stolen material, that’s very important for any journalists to know. I think most of these people are tech executives, and they don’t know what the law is around speech and around reporting. And in this case, and in 2016, you are dealing with true material. There is no basis to restrict the publication of true material no matter who the sources and how you get it. And journalists have always understood that and this has never been an issue or a controversial issue until very recently.
2:44:40 Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL): Would you agree that there was a black list created in 2021? Michael Shellenberger: Sorry, yes, Jay Bhattacharya, the Stanford Professor, who I don’t think anybody considers a fringe epidemiologist, was indeed — I’m sorry, I couldn’t, I didn’t piece it together — he was indeed visibility filtered. Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL): Correct. And so this blacklist that was created, that really was used to de-platform, reduce visibility, create lists internally, where people couldn’t even see their profiles, that was used against doctors and scientists who produced information that was contrary to what the CDC was putting out, despite the fact that we now know that what they were publishing had scientific basis and in fact was valid. Michael Shellenberger: Absolutely. And not only that, but these are secret blacklists, so Professor Bhattacharya had no idea he was on it.
43:05 Matt Taibbi: The original promise of the internet was that it might democratize the exchange of information globally. A free internet would overwhelm all attempts to control information flow, its very existence a threat to anti-democratic forms of government everywhere. What we found in the Files was a sweeping effort to reverse that promise and use machine learning and other tools to turn the Internet into an instrument of censorship and social control. Unfortunately, our own government appears to be playing a lead role. We saw the first hints and communications between Twitter executives before the 2020 election, when we read things like “flagged by DHS,” or “please see attached report from FBI for potential misinformation.” This would be attached to an Excel spreadsheet with a long list of names, whose accounts were often suspended shortly after.
February 13, 2023
The Joe Rogan Experience
Matt Taibbi: So this is another topic that is fascinating because it hasn’t gotten a ton of press. But if you go back all the way to the early 70s, the CIA and the FBI got in a lot of trouble for various things, the CIA for assassination schemes involving people like Castro, the FBI for, you know, COINTELPRO and other programs, domestic surveillance, and they made changes after Congressional hearings, the Church Committee, that basically said the FBI, from now on, you have to have some kind of reason to be following somebody or investigating somebody, you have to have some kind of criminal predicate and we want you mainly to be investigating cases. But after 9/11 they peeled all this back. There was a series of Attorney General memos that essentially re-fashioned what the FBI does, and now they don’t have to be doing crimefighting all the time. Now they can be doing basically 100% intelligence gathering all the time. They can be infiltrating groups for no reason at all, not to build cases, but just to get information. And so that’s why they’re there. They’re in these groups, they’re posted up outside of the homes of people they find suspicious, but they’re not building cases and they’re not investigating crimes. It’s sort of like Minority Report there, right? It’s pre-crime.
Matt Taibbi: We see reports in these files of government agencies sending lists of accounts that are accusing the United States of vaccine corruption. Now, what they’re really talking about is pressuring foreign countries to not use generic vaccines. Right. And, you know, that’s a liberal issue, that’s a progressive issue. The progressives want generic vaccines to be available to poor countries, okay? But, you know, you can use this tool to eliminate speech about that if you want too, right? I think that’s what they don’t get is that the significance is not who [it’s used against], the significance is the tool. What is it capable of doing, right? How easily is it employed, and you know, how often is it used? And they don’t focus on that.
Joe Rogan: Has anything been surprising to you? Matt Taibbi: A little bit. I think going into it, I thought that the relationship between the security agencies like the FBI and the DHS and companies like Twitter and Facebook, I thought it was a little bit less formal. I thought maybe they had kind of an advisory role. And what we find is that it’s not that, it’s very formalized. They have a really intense structure that they’ve worked out over a period of years where they have regular meetings. They have a system where the DHS handles censorship requests that come up from the States and the FBI handles international ones, and they all float all these companies and it’s a big bureaucracy. I don’t think we expected to see that.
Matt Taibbi: I was especially shocked by an email from a staffer for Adam Schiff, the Congressperson, the California Congressman. And they’re just outright saying we would like you to suspend the accounts of this journalist and anybody who retweets information about this Committee. You know, I mean, this is a member of Congress. Joe Rogan: Yeah. Matt Taibbi: Right? Most of these people have legal backgrounds. They’ve got lawyers in the office for sure. And this is the House Intelligence Committee.
Protecting Speech from Government Interference and Social Media Bias, Part 1: Twitter’s Role in Suppressing the Biden Laptop Story
February 8, 2023
House Committee on Oversight and Accountability
Vijaya Gadde, Former Chief Legal Officer, Twitter
James Baker, Former Deputy General Counsel, Twitter
Yoel Roth, Former Global Head of Trust & Safety, Twitter
Annika Collier Navaroli, Former Policy Expert for Content Moderation, Twitter
14:50 Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD): What’s more, Twitter’s editorial decision has been analyzed and debated ad nauseam. Some people think it was the right decision. Some people think it was the wrong decision. But the key point here is that it was Twitter’s decision. Twitter is a private media company. In America, private media companies can decide what to publish or how to curate content however they want. If Twitter wants to have nothing but Tweets commenting on New York Post articles run all day, it can do that. If it makes such tweets mentioning New York Post never see the light of day they can do that too. That’s what the First Amendment means.
16:05 Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD): Officially Twitter happens to think they got it wrong about that day or two period. In hindsight, Twitter’s former CEO Jack Dorsey called it a mistake. This apology might be a statement of regret about the company being overly cautious about the risks of publishing contents and potentially hacked or stolen materials, or it may reflect craven surrender to a right wing pressure campaign. But however you interpreted the apology just makes the premise of this hearing all the more absurd. The professional conspiracy theorists who are heckling and haranguing this private company have already gotten exactly what they want: an apology. What more do they want? And why does the US Congress have to be involved in this nonsense when we have serious work to do for the American people?
26:20 James Baker: The law permits the government to have complex, multifaceted, and long term relationships with the private sector. Law enforcement agencies and companies can engage with each other regarding, for example, compulsory legal process served on companies, criminal activity that companies, the government, or the public identify, such as crimes against children, cybersecurity threats, and terrorism, and instances where companies themselves are victims of crime. When done properly, these interactions can be beneficial to both sides and in the interest of the public. As you Mr. Chairman, Mr. Jordan, and others have proposed, a potential workable way to legislate in this area may be to focus on the actions of federal government agencies and officials with respect to their engagement with the private sector. Congress may be able to limit the nature and scope of those interactions in certain ways, require enhanced transparency and reporting by the executive branch about its engagements, and require higher level approvals within the executive branch prior to such engagements on certain topics, so that you can hold Senate confirmed officials, for example, accountable for those decisions. In any event, if you want to legislate, my recommendation is to focus first on reasonable and effective limitations on government actors. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
31:05 Vijaya Gadde: On October 14, 2020, The New York Post tweeted articles about Hunter Biden’s laptop with embedded images that looked like they may have been obtained through hacking. In 2018, we had developed a policy intended to prevent Twitter from becoming a dumping ground for hacked materials. We applied this policy to the New York Post tweets and blocked links to the articles embedding those sorts of materials. At no point to Twitter otherwise prevent tweeting, reporting, discussing or describing the contents of Mr. Biden’s laptop. People could and did talk about the contents of the laptop on Twitter or anywhere else, including other much larger platforms, but they were prevented from sharing the primary documents on Twitter. Still, over the course of that day, it became clear that Twitter had not fully appreciated the impact of that policy on free press and others. As Mr. Dorsey testified before Congress on multiple occasions, Twitter changed its policy within 24 hours and admitted its initial action was wrong. This policy revision immediately allowed people to tweet the original articles with the embedded source materials, relying on its long standing practice not to retroactively apply new policies. Twitter informed the New York Post that it could immediately begin tweeting when it deleted the original tweets, which would have freed them to retweet the same content again. The New York Post chose not to delete its original tweets, so Twitter made an exception after two weeks to retroactively apply the new policy to the Post’s tweets. In hindsight, Twitter should have reinstated the Post account immediately.
35:35 Yoel Roth: In 2020, Twitter noticed activity related to the laptop that at first glance bore a lot of similarities to the 2016 Russian hack and leak operation targeting the DNC, and we had to decide what to do. And in that moment with limited information, Twitter made a mistake.
36:20 Yoel Roth: It isn’t obvious what the right response is to a suspected, but not confirmed, cyber attack by another government on a Presidential Election. I believe Twitter erred in this case because we wanted to avoid repeating the mistakes of 2016.
38:41 Annika Collier Navaroli: I joined Twitter in 2019 and by 2020 I was the most senior expert on Twitter’s U.S. Safety Policy Team. My team’s mission was to protect free speech and public safety by writing and enforcing content moderation policies around the world. These policies include things like abuse, harassment, hate speech, violence and privacy.
41:20 Annika Collier Navaroli: With January 6 and many other decisions, content moderators like me did the very best that we could. But far too often there are far too few of us and we are being asked to do the impossible. For example, in January 2020 after the US assassinated an Iranian General and the US president decided to justify it on Twitter, management literally instructed me and my team to make sure that World War III did not start on the platform.
1:08:20 Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC): Did the US government ever contact you or anyone at Twitter to censor or moderate certain Tweets, yes or no? Vijaya Gadde: We receive legal demands to remove content from the platform from the US government and governments all around the world. Those are published on a third party website.
1:12:00 Yoel Roth: The number one most influential part of the Russian active measures campaign in 2016 was the hack and leak targeting John Podesta. It would have been foolish not to consider the possibility that they would run that play again.
1:44:45 Yoel Roth: I think one of the key failures that we identified after 2016 was that there was very little information coming from the government and from intelligence services to the private sector. The private sector had the power to remove bots and to take down foreign disinformation campaigns, but we didn’t always know where to look without leads supplied by the intelligence community. That was one of the failures highlighted in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report and in the Mueller investigation, and that was one of the things we set out to fix in 2017.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA): On September 8 2019, at 11:11pm, Donald Trump heckled two celebrities on Twitter — John Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen — and referred to them as “the musician John Legend and his filthy mouth wife.” Ms. Teigen responded to that email [Tweet] at 12:17am. And according to notes from a conversation with you, Ms. Navaroli’s, counsel, your counsel, the White House almost immediately thereafter contacted Twitter to demand the tweet be taken down. Is that accurate? Annika Collier Navaroli: Thank you for the question. In my role, I was not responsible for receiving any sort of request from the government. However, what I was privy to was my supervisors letting us know that we had received something along those lines or something of a request. And in that particular instance, I do remember hearing that we had received a request from the White House to make sure that we evaluated this tweet, and that they wanted it to come down because it was a derogatory statement towards the President. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA): They wanted it to come down. They made that request. Annika Collier Navaroli: To my recollection, yes. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA): I thought that was an inappropriate action by a government official, let alone the White House. But it wasn’t Joe Biden, about his son’s laptop. It was Donald Trump because he didn’t like what Chrissy Teigen had to say about him, is that correct? Annika Collier Navaroli: Yes, that is correct. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA): My, my, my.
1:45:15 Rep. Shontel Brown (D-OH): Mr. Roth, were those communication channels useful to Twitter as they work to combat foreign influence operations? Yoel Roth: Absolutely, I would say they were one of the most essential pieces of how Twitter prepared for future elections.
2:42:35 Rep. Becca Balint (D-VA): Ms. Gadde, did anyone from the Biden campaign or the Democratic National Committee direct Twitter to remove or take action against the New York Post story? Vijaya Gadde: No.
4:15:45 Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND): And now we forward to 2020. And earlier you had testified that you were having regular interactions with National Intelligence, Homeland Security and the FBI. Yoel Roth: Yes, I did. Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND): And primarily to deal with foreign interference? Yoel Roth: Primarily, but I would say — Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND): But you had said earlier your contact with Agent Chang was primarily with foreign interference? Yoel Roth: Yes, that’s right. Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND): And these were emails….were there meetings? Yoel Roth: Yes, Twitter met quarterly with the FBI Foreign Interference Task Force and we had those meetings running for a number of years to share information about malign foreign interference. Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND): Agents from Homeland Security or Intelligence, or just primarily the FBI? Yoel Roth: Our primary contacts were with the FBI and in those quarterly meetings, they were, I believe, exclusively with FBI personnel.
4:18:05 Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND): Earlier today you testified that you were following national security experts on Twitter as a reason to take down the New York Post story on Hunter Biden’s laptop. Yoel Roth: Yes, sir, I did. Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND): So after 2016, you set up all these teams to deal with Russian interference, foreign interference, you’re having regular meetings with the FBI, you have connections with all of these different government agencies, and you didn’t reach out to them once? Yoel Roth: Is that question in reference to the day of the New York Post article? Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND): Yeah. Yoel Roth: That’s right. We generally did not reach out to the FBI to consult on content moderation decisions, especially where they related to domestic activity. It’s not that we wouldn’t have liked that information, we certainly would have. It’s that I don’t believe it would have been appropriate for us to consult with the FBI. Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND): In December of 2020, you did a declaration to the Federal Election Commission that the intelligence community expected a leak and a hack operation involving Hunter Biden. Recently, Mark Zuckerberg confirmed that the FBI warned Meta that there was a high effort of Russian propaganda including language specific enough to fit the Hunter Biden laptop security story. You’re talking to these people for weeks and months, years prior to this leaking. They have specifically told you in October, that there’s going to be a leak potentially involving Hunter Biden’s laptop. They legitimately and literally prophesized what happened. And you didn’t contact any of them? Yoel Roth: No, sir, I did not. Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND): Did they reach out to you? Yoel Roth: On and around that day, to the best of my recollection, no, they did not. Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND): After the story was taken down and you guys did it, and you personally disagreed with it Ms. Gadde, did you contact them and say is “Hey, is this what you were talking about?” Yoel Roth: If that question was directed to me. No, I did not. Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND): Ms. Gadde, did you talk to anybody from the FBI? Vijaya Gadde: Not to the best of my recollection. Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND): So I guess my question is, what is the point of this program? You have constant communication, they’re set up for foreign interference. They’ve legitimately warned you about this very specific thing. And then all of a sudden, everybody just walks away?
5:18:55 Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM): We are devoting an entire day to this conspiracy theory involving Twitter. Now, the mission of this committee is to root out waste, fraud and abuse and to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people. And if you need any evidence of waste, fraud and abuse, how about the use of this committee’s precious time, space and resources to commit to this hearing?
5:58:25 Rep. Eric Burlison (R-MO): Back to Mr. Roth, is it true that Twitter whitelisted accounts for the Department of Defense to spread propaganda about its efforts in the Middle East? Did they give you a list of accounts that were fake accounts and asked you to whitelist those accounts? Yoel Roth: That request was made of Twitter. To be clear, when I found out about that activity, I was appalled by it. I undid the action and my team exposed activity originating from the Department of Defense’s campaign publicly. We’ve shared that data with the world and research about it has been published.
6:07:20 Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): Mr. Roth, I want to go back to your statement in your declaration to the FEC “I learned that a hack and leak operation would involve Hunter Biden,” who did you learn that from? Yoel Roth: My recollection is it was mentioned by another technology company in one of our joint meetings, but I don’t recall specifically whom. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): You don’t know the person’s name? Yoel Roth: I don’t even recall what company they worked at. No, this was a long time ago. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): And you’re confident that it was from a tech company, not from someone from the government? Yoel Roth: To the best of my recollection, yes. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): Did anyone from the government, in these periodic meetings you had, did they ever tell you that a hack and leak operation involving Hunter Biden was coming? Yoel Roth: No. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): Did Hunter Biden’s name come up at all these meetings? Yoel Roth: Yes, his name was raised in those meetings, but not by the government to the best of my recollection.
6:09:30 Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): Mr. Roth, why were you reluctant, based on what I read in the Twitter files, why were you reluctant to work with the GEC? Yoel Roth: It was my understanding that the GEC, or the Global Engagement Center of the State Department, had previously engaged in at least what some would consider offensive influence operations. Not that they were offensive as in bad, but offensive as in they targeted entities outside of the United States. And on that basis, I felt that it would be inappropriate for Twitter to engage with a part of the State Department that was engaged in active statecraft. We were dedicated to rooting out malign foreign interference no matter who it came from. And if we found that the American government was engaged in malign foreign interference, we’d be addressing that as well.
6:13:50 Rep. James Comer (R-KY): Twitter is a private company, but they enjoy special liability protections, Section 230. They also, according to the Twitter files, receive millions of dollars from the FBI, which is tax dollars, I would assume. And that makes it a concern of the Oversight Committee.
October 28, 2020
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee
Jack Dorsey, [Former] CEO, Twitter
Sundar Pichai, CEO, Alphabet and Google Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook [Meta]
2:20:40 Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA): The issue is not that the companies before us today are taking too many posts down. The issue is that they’re leaving too many dangerous posts up. In fact, they’re amplifying harmful content so that it spreads like wildfire and torches our democracy.
3:15:40 Mark Zuckerberg: Senator, as I testified before, we relied heavily on the FBI, his intelligence and alert status both through their public testimony and private briefings. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI): Did the FBI contact you, sir, than your co star? It was false. Mark Zuckerberg: Senator not about that story specifically. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI): Why did you throttle it back? Mark Zuckerberg: They alerted us to be on heightened alert around a risk of hack and leak operations around a release and probe of information.
Emerging Trends in Online Foreign Influence Operations: Social Media, COVID-19, and Election Security
June 18, 2020
Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Security Policy at Facebook Nick Pickles, Director of Global Public Policy Strategy and Development at Twitter Richard Salgado, Director for Law Enforcement and Information Security at Google 1:40:10 Nathaniel Gleicher: Congressman, the collaboration within industry and with government is much, much better than it was in 2016. I think we have found the FBI, for example, to be forward leaning and ready to share information with us when they see it. We share information with them whenever we see indications of foreign interference targeting our election. The best case study for this was the 2018 midterms, where you saw industry, government and civil society all come together, sharing information to tackle these threats. We had a case on literally the eve of the vote, where the FBI gave us a tip about a network of accounts where they identified subtle links to Russian actors. Were able to investigate those and take action on them within a matter of hours.
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