Wednesday, Jan 25, 2023

Musk’s Twitter Files Reveal Secret Liberal Censorship Methods

The latest installments of internal Twitter files which have been released on the orders of Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, show the extent to which Twitter executives had violated their own liberal so-called content standards in order to justify their efforts to silence Donald Trump and his supporters on the social media platform.

The Twitter files that have been released so far in five batches by independent journalists Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss, and Michael Shellenberger reveal the internal discussions among senior Twitter executives in which they abandoned all objectivity in an effort to help Joe Biden and the Democrats defeat Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

The first batch of Twitter files, which were released by Taibbi and dealt with the suppression of the New York Post story about the incriminating files the FBI found on Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop, had been censored without Musk’s knowledge or permission by Twitter’s deputy general counsel, James Baker, who claimed, without any supporting evidence, that the laptop may have been hacked. Before coming to Twitter, Baker had been one of the FBI officials who promoted the original Russian collusion hoax. But after Musk summarily fired Baker two weeks ago, subsequent releases of the Twitter files proceeded at a much more rapid pace.

The Twitter files show how Twitter executives were part of a coordinated Democratic oppo-research and suppression effort, in close operation with FBI officials. Their common goal was to surreptitiously limit Donald Trump’s ability to get his political message to his millions of followers on Twitter, and thereby help to assure Joe Biden’s election.

TWITTER OFFICIALS WERE MEETING WITH THE FBI

During that period, senior Twitter executives were meeting weekly with FBI, Homeland Security, and national intelligence officials to discuss “disinformation” they felt should be removed from the site, including any references to the New York Post story on the incriminating emails found on Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop.

Then, on January 8, 2021, following the riot two days earlier by Trump supporters at the Capitol building in DC, Twitter executives decided to permanently ban Trump’s Twitter account.

In addition to Trump, a number of other popular conservative voices were also designated by top Twitter executives as targets for “shadow banning” and suppression on the platform. They included podcast and Fox News host Dan Bongino; Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk; Chaya Raichik, who runs the Libs of TikTok account; and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, who was an outspoken critic of the first Covid-19 lockdowns on young children.

HOW TWITTER LOST ITS MISSION

In releasing the second batch of Twitter files, Bari Weiss recalled that the social media platform had originally started out with a mission “to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.” But along the way, various barriers to free speech were nevertheless erected by Twitter executives who claimed they were necessary to protect users against misinformation, while at the same time denying the existence of such barriers in their public statements.

In 2018, Twitter’s Head of Legal Policy and Trust, Vijaya Gadde, and its Head of Product, Kayvon Beykpour, declared: “We do not shadow ban, and we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.”

On November 17, 2020, then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified before Congress under oath, denying that the platform was suppressing user access to disfavored conservative political viewpoints.

Twitter abandoned the platform’s original free speech goals after its CEO Parag Agrawal publicly pledged to “focus less on thinking about free speech” and more on “who can be heard.” Reading the comments of these Twitter executives, it becomes apparent that they thought they had a right to dictate what American citizens could be allowed to read or say on the platform. In addition, because Trump and his supporters had been deliberately targeted for suppression, many liberals abandoned their previous free-speech agenda to defend Twitter’s effort to maintain one of the largest public censorship operations in history.

TWITTER’S TOOLBOX OF BLACKLISTS

According to internal messages exchanged between the Twitter executives, their censorship tools included a “Trends Blacklist,” which made sure that blacklisted tweets would not be allowed to trend; a “Search Blacklist,” which made it almost impossible for users to find certain accounts or tweets on Twitter; and a “Do Not Amplify” setting, which prevented the designated tweets from getting the kind of attention they normally would have received on the platform if left alone.

The Twitter executives also employed what they called “visibility filters” against various Republican candidates running in the 2020 midterm election to block certain user searches, and to prevent the tweets by shadow-banned individuals from ever appearing on Twitter’s trending page and from inclusion in hashtag searches, all without the Twitter users’ knowledge.

The secret group of executives who decided which Twitter users would have their access to the platform limited was known as the Strategic Response Team-Global Escalation Team. It included Head of Legal, Policy, and Trust Vijaya Gadde; the Global Head of Trust and Safety, Yoel Roth; and former CEOs Jack Dorsey and Parag Agrawal.

Bari Weiss quoted a boast by an unnamed Twitter engineer, who said, “We control visibility quite a bit. And we control the amplification of your content quite a bit. And normal people do not know how much we do.”

CENSORING TRUMP EVEN WHEN HE WAS CORRECT

Twitter employees had also wanted to label as false a tweet issued by Donald Trump in October 2020 which declared “A Rigged Election!” based upon a report out of Ohio that nearly 50,000 voters had received the wrong ballot — until they realized that the report was “factually accurate” and that the wrong ballots had indeed been sent out.

However, a few days later, the senior Twitter executives did suppress a Trump tweet that claimed, “Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA,” using a “visibility filter” so that no users could reply to, like, or share the tweet, even though that particular Trump claim did not violate any specific Twitter truth standard. Nevertheless, Yoel Roth commended his staff for acting so quickly to suppress the tweet.

In addition, while Trump was being aggressively censored, senior Twitter executives made no effort to block multiple pro-Biden tweets warning that Trump “may try to steal the election.”

THE HUNTER BIDEN LAPTOP MEDIA COVERUP

The most important of the Twitter suppressions during the 2020 presidential campaign was the censorship of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story.

The rest of the mainstream media cooperated with the coverup, based upon a published letter signed by 51 top intelligence experts who denounced the incriminating emails found on the laptop as “Russian disinformation,” despite the fact that they had previously been verified as authentic by the FBI. As a result, relatively few voters in the 2020 presidential election were aware of the emails on the laptop which suggested that Joe Biden (identified as “The Big Guy”) was to collect a slice of the profits from Hunter’s deal with a Chinese energy company.

Matt Taibbi reported that “As the [2020] election approached, senior [Twitter] executives — perhaps under pressure from federal agencies, with whom they met more as time progressed — increasingly struggled with [their own] rules.

“There was at least some tension between Safety Operations — a larger department whose staffers used a more rules-based process for addressing issues like … scams, and threats — and a smaller, more powerful cadre of senior policy execs like Roth and Gadde. The latter group were a high-speed Supreme Court of moderation, issuing content rulings on the fly, often in minutes and based on guesses, gut calls, even Google searches, even in cases involving the President.

“During this time, executives were also clearly liaising with federal enforcement and intelligence agencies about moderation of election-related [Twitter] content.”

DEMOCRAT WANTED TWITTER CENSORSHIP TO CONTINUE

At one point, when Jack Dorsey apologized for the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story during a congressional hearing, Democrat senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Coons seemed to be more concerned by the prospect that Twitter would relax its censorship of tweets with “misinformation” on climate change and other liberal policy objectives.

Another crucial period was the three days following the January 6 riot at the US Capitol during which Twitter executives finalized their decision to permanently ban Trump from their platform.

The events of that period were described in detail by the fifth installment of Twitter files released Monday by Bari Weiss. It began by describing how Yoel Roth convinced CEO Jack Dorsey to adopt a new “repeat offender” approach in which a person was given “five strikes,” and would not have their account permanently suspended until they violated Twitter’s rules five times.

Roth also decided to apply Twitter’s “public interest” exception rules to Trump’s account. The exception enables even the most notorious elected officials and world leaders, such as Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, to continue to use the Twitter platform, even if their messages violate its normal guidelines, in order “to protect the public’s right to hear from their leaders and to hold them to account.”

TRUMP’S LAST TWO TWEETS

Meanwhile, Trump had already violated Twitter rules with four offending tweets, leaving him with just one more “strike” before his account would be canceled. Early on the morning of January 8, Trump issued two more tweets.

The first one said, “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!!!”

Trump’s second tweet said, “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

That left it up to Twitter’s executives to determine whether Trump’s latest tweets had violated its guidelines. But by that time, many of Twitter’s employees were disgusted with Trump and organized themselves to demand that he be banned from the platform.

TWITTER EMPLOYEES DEMANDED TRUMP’S REMOVAL

Later that day, the Washington Post published an open letter signed by over 300 Twitter employees to Jack Dorsey demanding that Trump be banned. “We must examine Twitter’s complicity in what President-elect Biden has rightly termed insurrection,” the letter added.

But at about the same time, the members of the Twitter staff assigned to evaluate Trump’s latest tweets concluded that they had not violated Twitter’s policy against incitement, and that his account still had to be maintained, according to Dorsey’s five strike rule.

At that point, Vijaya Gadde decided that even though Trump’s last tweets had not violated Twitter rules, they should be “coded incitement to further violence” on the basis of the “totality of his tweets.”

One hour later, Twitter gave in to the demands of its employees and formally announced Trump’s permanent suspension “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”

To avoid a repeat of such a revolt, on Monday, Musk announced that he was disbanding Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council which was supposed to be composed of civil-society groups advising Twitter on how to enforce its policies, but which was actually run by Yoel Roth. Twitter’s new head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, joined Twitter in June and took over the job of overseeing user content and safety policies when Musk took control of the company in November

TWITTER FAILED TO FOLLOW ITS OWN RULES

In determining whether a given tweet was acceptable, Twitter employees were supposed to follow the platform’s so-called “Site Integrity Policy.” But that did not protect Chaya Raichik’s conservative Twitter feed, which was shut down six times in 2022 for violating Twitter’s “Hateful Conduct” policy. A recently released internal Twitter memo admitted that Raichik’s tweets had not violated that policy.

To solve such problems, Musk announced last week that Twitter will provide its users with a software update enabling them to determine whether they have been shadow-banned and how to appeal that status. New York Post reporter Miranda Devine also said in an interview with Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson that during the few weeks since Musk took over the company, she has seen the number of her Twitter followers increase by 40%, “and that’s something that’s experienced by conservatives across the board.”

PRESIDENT BIDEN BLASTS MUSK FOR BUYING TWITTER

On November 4, President Joe Biden personally entered the public debate over Twitter’s future by condemning Musk for “going out and buying an outfit that spews lies all across the world,” and for seeking to end Twitter’s restrictions on the free expression of both conservative and liberal views on a wide range of subjects. Biden also lamented the fact that “there are no editors [read: censors] anymore” to protect the American people from their own misguided values and assumptions. Without them, Biden asked, “How do people know the truth? How do they make a distinction between fact and fiction?”

The comment revealed the contempt of Biden and other liberal Democrats for the ability of ordinary American voters to make up their own minds on subjects ranging from elections to vaccinations, and the extent to which the right of freedom of speech has already been compromised by the unholy alliance between the Big Tech corporations, the mainstream media, and Democrat elected officials.

MAINSTREAM MEDIA BOYCOTTING THE TWITTER FILE STORY

Another disturbing element in this story is the refusal of most mainstream media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and all the cable news networks (with the notable exception of Fox News), to report the shocking revelations in the Twitter files that Musk released.

None of these media outlets seems to be concerned about the threat from Twitter censorship to freedom of speech, or maintaining the traditional journalistic principles of political neutrality, transparency, and fair play in their reporting of news to the American people. Instead, they have been defending their cooperation in this conspiracy to control the free flow of information. They say it is justified by the threat free speech by anyone who does not share their liberal views would pose to American democracy.

To minimize their role in this corporate censorship scandal, these media outlets imposed a virtual news blackout on the implications of the Twitter files, in much the same way Twitter officials suppressed the dissemination of any dissenting or opposing views to those of the liberal establishment.

And instead of outraged criticism from advocates for the First Amendment and the public, there has been only a trickle of condemnation, mostly from the conservatives who were the victims of the media conspiracy, as well as much louder complaints against Elon Musk for having the chutzpah to buy Twitter so that he could expose and then correct its faults.

THE GROWING POLITICAL IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

The freedom of social media is vitally important to American democracy, because of the way in which they have changed the nature of political campaigns and elections. Television advertising is no longer as important or effective, because fewer people are watching traditional television programs. Instead, they are spending much more of their time viewing content on their smartphones and interacting with social media.

According to a 2019 Pew Research study, 86% of Americans get at least some of their news from a smartphone, computer, or tablet, and 60% say they get their news this way “often.” Therefore, a candidate who can communicate his message more effectively through search engines like Google and on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook has a real advantage in winning elections.

Until now, all the major social media platforms have been dominated by liberal Democrats, who have turned that control into a meaningful political advantage against Republicans. That is why Kevin McCarthy, the likely next Speaker of the new GOP-controlled House, is promising to hold hearings not only on the political bias on Twitter, but also the other high-tech giants whose platforms dominate our lives.

“Now we need to start looking at Facebook, at Google,” McCarthy said, because “these now have become arms of the Democratic Party, arms of the Biden administration.”

MUSK CALLS FOR A PROBE OF DR. FAUCI

Over the weekend, Elon Musk used his own Twitter account to mock the professional reputation of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious-disease and Covid expert in the   administration who recently announced his resignation, at the age of 81, as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

By doing so, Musk was endorsing the popular right-wing theory that Fauci was involved in providing US government funding for controversial gain-of-function research into coronaviruses at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, from which the first Covid virus could have originated, and then lied to Congress about it. Fauci “lied to Congress and funded gain-of-function research that killed millions of people,” Musk wrote in a follow-up to his initial anti-Fauci post.

To many conservatives, Fauci has become a symbol of unpopular mask and vaccine mandates and over-extended school and business lockdowns. Musk is a supporter of Florida’s popular Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who kept his state’s economy open by opposing nearly all Covid restrictions and mandates, including masks, lockdowns and vaccines.

While it is highly unlikely that Dr. Fauci will be prosecuted, as Musk’s tweet suggested, for his alleged involvement in starting the pandemic and lying about its origins, he could be called to testify about it by a committee of the new Republican-controlled Congress which takes office in January. Fauci’s response to that possibility is, “I am very happy to testify before any congressional oversight committee, I have nothing to hide. I can explain and validate everything that I’ve done.”

Musk has also ended Twitter’s policy against the proliferation of alternative theories about the origin of the coronavirus, in keeping with his desire to make the platform adhere to his principles of unfettered free speech. His Twitter files also include evidence that top Twitter executives had sought to suppress the views of Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a Stanford physician who co-authored the October 2020 Great Barrington Declaration, in which he and other infectious disease experts pushed for the swift reopening of society and the early end of most coronavirus restrictions.

Musk is experimenting with new ideas to reform and improve Twitter, even as liberals blast him for reopening the platform to the free exchange of all reasonable political, scientific, and social policy opinions from the left and the right. He has also moved to boost Twitter’s revenues by reintroducing a paid-for subscription service that would show members fewer ads and offer other features.

MUSK’S TWITTER STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS

Musk’s critics, who find fault in everything he does these days, say that he paid far too much for Twitter, and trying to solve its many problems will distract him from giving enough attention to his more profitable enterprises, such as Tesla and SpaceX. But Musk appears to be enjoying the notoriety and criticism he is receiving, especially from his former liberal admirers, since taking over Twitter.

If Musk’s reforms to the social media platform are successful, Twitter could set a new non-partisan corporate model for other big American tech firms, such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple, whose partisan political affiliations and aggressive business tactics are also facing increased scrutiny from both American and European regulators.

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