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Twitter believed it would lose COVID censorship suit, feared release of documents: emails

Twitter Files emails suggest company used "narrowest definition possible" for materials turned over in settlement with COVID vaccine critic Alex Berenson, he says.

Published: June 2, 2023 11:26pm

Twitter lawyers thought the company was likely to lose a COVID-19 censorship lawsuit by a former New York Times journalist it permanently suspended from the social media platform, and feared the public seeing Twitter's internal discussions if they went to trial, according to newly revealed documents.

Alex Berenson published a selection of the internal materials pertaining to his lawsuit against Twitter — confidentially settled nearly a year ago — that he received from Twitter Files journalist Michael Shellenberger.

"Twitter restored my account and admitted I hadn’t violated its rules. But Twitter has never explained why it censored me," and the materials suggest its lawyers doubted it could convince a jury there was a legitimate basis, Berenson wrote in a tweet thread. (He said he asked Twitter owner Elon Musk for permission to share the settlement terms.)

The documents show communications among then-General Counsel Sean Edgett, head of global litigation Karen Colangelo and Associate Director for Litigation Micah Rubbo related to the internal documents that would be released in discovery if Twitter didn't settle.

In a May 2022 thread, Rubbo gave Twitter a "less than 50%" chance of winning the suit before a jury, with "slightly more success on appeal." Colagelo called unspecified documents that would be disclosed at trial "problematic" and "sensitive" and Rubbo questioned whether Twitter was willing to "risk the potential public disclosure of *many* documents in order to prevent disclosure of some of them now?”

In August, Rubbo described to Edgett which documents it would turn over to Berenson as a condition of the settlement the previous month, and which it would withhold. Among the latter: "debate and disagreement" within Twitter's Trust and Safety Team "and leadership, regarding enforcement decisions on Berenson's account."

Berenson said the emails suggest Twitter used "the narrowest definition possible" in complying with the settlement terms, only providing to him "internal discussions that occurred as a direct result of specific external communications" from sources including White House officials and Pfizer board member Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner under President Trump.

"Did the company’s leaders or other employees discuss or debate how the overall censorship pressures Twitter faced in 2021 should affect my reporting and account?" Berenson asked rhetorically.

Berenson used the emails he obtained through the Twitter lawsuit to file an April lawsuit against federal officials, including President Joe Biden and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and Gottlieb for conscripting Twitter to ban him, "a leading COVID-19 vaccine skeptic." 

The Twitter Files are collected and organized at Crowdsourced News.

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