Twitter executives engaged in extensive collaboration with federal law enforcement as they escalated censorship activities on the platform during the 2020 election, including an earlier effort to hamper Donald Trump’s social media visibility prior to banning his account.
The explosive new revelations were made public by independent journalist Matt Taibbi on Friday night, facilitated by Twitter‘s new owner, Elon Musk.
The files make clear that the FBI flagged specific content for censorship and that Twitter executives met not only with the bureau, but also with teams from Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence as the war against “misinformation” escalated it in the final weeks of the 2020 presidential election.
Earlier Friday, Taibbi also released files detailing the momentous decision to boot Trump from the platform after the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot, while he was still America’s 45th president.
Later in the evening, the journalist released internal communications confirming Twitter executives also engaged in earlier effort to hamper Trump’s visibility and engagement on the platform in the final days of the presidential election.
“Trump was being ‘visibility filtered’ as late as a week before the election,” Taibbi wrote, attaching contemporaneous internal communications that validated the claim. “Here, senior execs didn’t appear to have a particular violation, but still worked fast to make sure a fairly anodyne Trump tweet couldn’t be ‘replied to, shared, or liked.’”
Once completed with the action, a Twitter executive marveled about how quickly the platform was able to censor America’s sitting president, the communications show.
"Very well done on speed folks, what this is all designed for and a huge positive for the platform," one employee wrote.
In another effort targeting Trump before his suspension, Twitter employees discussed putting a “mail-in voting is safe” warning label on a Trump tweet about a postal screwup in Ohio, before realizing “the events took place,” which meant the tweet was “factually accurate,” Taibbi wrote.
Many efforts were given to monitor Republican claims of election meddling, even when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee made a joke about filing fake ballots from his deceased relatives.
“The group declares Huck’s an ‘edge case,” and though one notes, ‘we don’t make exceptions for jokes or satire,’ they ultimately decide to leave him be, because ‘we’ve poked enough bears,’” Taibbi narrated.
Some censorship efforts targeting specific American Republicans came at the behest of the FBI, the files indicated.
“Here, the FBI sends reports about a pair of tweets, the second of which involves a former Tippecanoe County, Indiana Councilor and Republican named @JohnBasham
claiming ‘Between 2% and 25% of Ballots by Mail are Being Rejected for Errors.,’” Taibbi noted.
Such contact with federal law enforcement became routine in the final weeks of the election, with executives talking about weekly meetings with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and even the office of the top intelligence executive in government.
One internal Twitter communication, for instance, referred to a "weekly sync with FBI/DHS/DNI" regarding election security issues.
Once Twitter’s extensive censorship activities exploded into the public with the controversial decision to temporarily block stories from the New York Post about Hunter Biden’s laptop — falsely claiming it was hacked materials — Twitter executives realized they had created an issue of trust in the marketplace in October 2020, the newly released communications showed.
"Hacked Materials exploded. We blocked the NYP story, then we unblocked it (but said the opposite), then said we unblocked it… and now we’re in a messy situation where our policy is in shambles, comms is angry, reporters think we’re idiots, and we’re refactoring an exceedingly complex policy 18 days out from the election,” one executive wrote.
Taibbi also raised the possibility of disparate treatment based on political affiliation.
He noted while there was extensive focus on Republican election fraud claims in the Twitter communications, similar ones from Democrats were reviewed but left uncensored including a hashtag suggesting a Trump-friendly Supreme Court might “#StealOurVotes.”
“There are multiple instances of involving pro-Biden tweets warning Trump “may try to steal the election” that got surfaced, only to be approved by senior executives,” Taibbi wrote.