The White House again insisted President Biden had no involvement in Twitter’s decisions to censor conservative voices or suppress stories on his son’s laptop on Friday, less than 24 hours after Musk dropped his second batch of files.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also denied that the administration had any direct contact with former FBI agent and Twitter general counsel Jim Baker over the moderation of stories.
Earlier this week Musk fired Baker, who was serving as a top Twitter lawyer, over his ‘possible’ role in suppressing the Hunter Biden story in October 2020.
During her daily briefing Friday press secretary Jean-Pierre was asked whether the Biden team had made any contact Baker regarding content moderation decisions.
‘It’s up to private companies to make these types of decisions. We were not involved, I can say that we were not involved,’ she said.
Earlier this week Jean-Pierre said it is ‘not healthy’ for Twitter to be releasing internal communications that showed Twitter suppressed the bombshell laptop reporting that showed Hunter Biden trading on his last name for cash.
It follows the release of two Twitter files over the last two weeks, including revelations published by journalist Bari Weiss on Wednesday night that executives suppressed conservative accounts even if they didn’t violate policy and certain trending topics.
The first set of Twitter Files, dropped in a thread on the social media platform by journalist Matt Taibbi, showed that the Biden campaign did ask Twitter to remove some nude photos and videos Hunter had left on his laptop that were being circulated.
‘It’s up to private companies to make these types of decisions. We were not involved, I can say that we were not involved,’ press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said
Internal communications indicate the Biden campaign had requested Twitter remove the post that violated its non-consensual nudity policy which prohibits ‘images or videos that are taken in an intimate setting and not intended for public distribution.’
The Trump White House had also contacted Twitter asking to have the company review or remove some tweets.
The Biden administration has been consistent in denying their involvement, but last year press secretary Jen Psaki admitted the White House was in regular contact with social media companies about ‘problematic’ posts that spread COVID ‘misinformation’.
The first tranche of revelations went on to internal debate within Twitter over whether censoring the Hunter Biden laptop story was a good idea.
‘I’m struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe, and I think the best explainability argument for this externally would be that we’re waiting to understand if this story is the result of hacked materials,’ Kennedy wrote, according to screenshots shared by Taibbi. ‘We’ll face hard questions on this if we don’t have some kind of solid reasoning for marking the link unsafe.’
At first Twitter blocked users from sharing links to New York Post, which first obtained the laptop, reporting, citing policy on hacked and stolen materials. The company even locked the New York Post’s account for sharing the story. Days later, the policy was reversed.
The first tranche of revelations went on to internal debate within Twitter over whether censoring the Hunter Biden laptop story was a good idea
Social media platforms had been on high alert for foreign influence campaigns after Wikileaks published hacked emails from Democratic Party officials during the 2016 campaign.
The story was published less than three weeks before the 2020 election. Other news organizations were initially unable to verify its allegations that Hunter Biden introduced his father to a senior figure at a Ukrainian energy company.
The Twitter Files do not show any proof that any Biden official asked the company to censor the Hunter Biden laptop story.
Meanwhile, Republicans are demanding hearings on Twitter and more information on whether GOP candidates were blacklisted before elections, after the second release of internal documents showed conservative accounts were suspended or suppressed despite not violating any policies.
The calls for more accountability come as Elon Musk responded ‘yes’ when a user asked him if any political candidates were ‘subject to shadowbanning while they were running for office or seeking re-election?’
Elon Musk, 51, has vowed that ‘everything we find will be released’ as Twitter continues to release the files surrounding censorship on the social media platform he now owns
Republican Senator Roger Wicker has called for the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to hold a hearing into censorship from Big Tech and GOP Rep. Andrew Clyde has called it ‘election interference’.
The release of the second tranche of Twitter files on Thursday night showed the social media giants ‘kept a secret blacklist of topics and accounts’ to prevent them from trending. Conservatives were deliberately downplayed in a scheme critics called ‘Soviet-style bulls***’.
Conservative commentators, including Dan Bongino and Charlie Kirk, were deliberately put on a ‘search blacklist’ in Bongino’s case or tabbed ‘do not amplify,’ in the case of Kirk.
But there are now calls to release more files that could unearth similar methods used on Republicans seeking office.
The calls for more accountability were sparked by Elon Musk responding ‘yes’ when a user asked him if any political candidates were ‘subject to shadowbanning while they were running for office or seeking re-election?’
Musk, who bought Twitter in October for $44 billion, vowed to end the practice of ‘shadow banning’ – secretly downgrading a person’s tweets or trending themes, to minimize their reach.
‘Twitter is working on a software update that will show your true account status, so you know clearly if you’ve been shadow banned, the reason why and how to appeal,’ he said.
Musk, 51, singled out Yoel Roth, the global head of trust and safety, who wrote in internal messages that he wanted more creative ways of censoring and muffling specific accounts and content.
‘Truth is out: Twitter did blacklist/suppress accounts their leftist employees disagreed with & manipulated trends against conservatives,’ Republican Rep. Steve Scalise tweeted on Thursday night.
‘Yet another thing the media called Republicans ‘conspiracy theorists’ for saying has turned out to be true. They can’t get away with this.’
Republican National Committee chairman Ronna McDaniel wrote on Twitter on Thursday night: ‘After I was shadow banned in 2018 (the DNC Chair was not), Twitter put out a statement emphatically saying: ‘We do not shadow ban.’ This confirms that was a LIE.’
Musk defended Twitter’s founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, however.
‘Controversial decisions were often made without getting Jack’s approval and he was unaware of systemic bias. The inmates were running the asylum,’ he said on Thursday night.
‘Jack has a pure heart imo.’
The ‘Chief Twit’, as he calls himself, was responding to revelations from journalist Bari Weiss that Twitter kept a ‘secret blacklist’ of topics and accounts to prevent them from trending.
The accounts of conservative commentators were deliberately made less prominent in what one called ‘Soviet-style bulls***’, while another said he was treated ‘with more censorship than Hamas.’
Weiss revealed how Twitter had specialist teams tasked with dealing with 200 cases a day.
Those who questioned the prevailing COVID orthodoxy of lockdowns and mask mandates, such as Stanford’s Dr Jay Bhattacharya, who argued that lockdowns harmed children, were also placed on a ‘search blacklist’.
In October 2020, journalist Dave Rubin asked then-CEO Jack Dorsey: ‘Do you shadowban based on political beliefs? Simple yes or no will do.’
Dorsey replied: ‘No.’
Yoel Roth was the global head of trust and safety at Twitter. Musk on Thursday highlighted a 2017 tweet in which Roth referred to the Trump White House as being full of ‘actual Nazis’
Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal, policy, and trust, also denied that Twitter operated such blacklists.
‘We do not shadow ban,’ she said in 2018, according to Weiss – speaking alongside Kayvon Beykpour, Twitter’s head of product.
They added: ‘And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.’
Weiss made the revelations on Thursday in the second tranche of what has been termed The Twitter Files.
She reported that Twitter used what was termed ‘visibility filtering’ to downplay accounts they objected to, and had teams of people working to reduce the traction gained by individuals or their tweets.
One senior Twitter insider called it ‘a very powerful tool’.
The teams working to minimize certain accounts or topics were backed up by a top-level ‘Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support’ team – where the CEO and top legal advisors would decide sensitive cases of censorship. Jack Dorsey and his successor as CEO, Parag Agrawal, were on the team.
Musk was gleeful about the revelations regarding the company he now owns – retweeting Weiss’ thread, with a popcorn emoji.
‘As @bariweiss clearly describes, the rules were enforced against the right, but not against the left,’ he said.
He added: ‘Truth brings reconciliation.’
Within Twitter, the practice was termed ‘visibility filtering’, Weiss reported.
‘Think about visibility filtering as being a way for us to suppress what people see to different levels. It’s a very powerful tool,’ one senior Twitter employee told her.
Twitter would block searches of individual users, make a specific tweet less easy to find, block posts from the ‘trending’ page, and remove them from hashtag searches.
Another source, a Twitter engineer, told Weiss: ‘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.’
Weiss said that the matter was dealt with by Twitter’s Strategic Response Team – Global Escalation Team, known as SRT-GET – a group that handled 200 cases a day.
A higher-level team, known as SIP-PES, ‘Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support,’ dealt with more complex and high-profile cases.
Dorsey and his replacement as CEO, Parag Agrawal, sat on the group, as did Gadde and Yoel Roth, the global head of trust and safety.
Roth messaged colleagues on Slack to say that ‘spam enforcements’ had been used as a way of circumventing the safety team ‘under-enforcing their policies’.
The group would need to intervene if any action was taken to limit the popular account @LibsofTiktok – whose account was tabbed internally: ‘Do Not Take Action on User Without Consulting With SIP-PES.’
Weiss said that account was suspended six times in 2022, and the author, Chaya Raichik, was blocked from her account for at least a week each time.
Her account was suspended, they told Raichik, due to violations of Twitter’s ‘hateful conduct’ policy – but internally, Twitter admitted there was no violation.
In an October 2022 memo from SIP-PES obtained by Weiss, the committee concluded that the account ‘has not directly engaged in behavior violative of the Hateful Conduct policy.’
They justified the suspension by saying her posts encouraged online harassment of ‘hospitals and medical providers’ by insinuating ‘that gender-affirming healthcare is equivalent to child abuse or grooming.’
Weiss said that their response was in sharp contrast to that when Raichik was doxxed, with her home address published online. Raichik complained, but Twitter refused to take the tweet down, and it remains on the site to this day.
Raichik tweeted: ‘They suspended me multiple times knowing I never violated any policies. This is what happens when you talk about things that they don’t want you to talk about. So glad those days on Twitter are over. Thank you @elonmusk.’
Musk replied: ‘You’re welcome. Twitter won’t be perfect in the future, but it will be *much* better.’
Weiss also singled out Roth for criticism, saying he was active in censoring accounts.
She noted that he had written to an employee on the Health, Misinformation, Privacy, and Identity research team wanting to improve ‘non-removal policy interventions like disabling engagements and deamplification/visibility filtering.’
Roth wrote: ‘The hypothesis underlying much of what we’ve implemented is that if exposure to, e.g., misinformation directly causes harm, we should use remediations that reduce exposure, and limiting the spread/virality of content is a good way to do that.’
He said that Dorsey was supportive of the censorship.
‘We got Jack on board with implementing this for civic integrity in the near term, but we’re going to need to make a more robust case to get this into our repertoire of policy remediations – especially for other policy domains,’ Roth wrote.
Tucker Carlson, Fox News host, immediately seized on Weiss’ report, saying it ‘confirms what many suspected but none knew for certain – which is that Twitter routinely censored prominent critics of the Biden administration, with no factual justification whatsoever.’
He noted the example of the Stanford doctor who was vocal against COVID lockdowns and was blacklisted, saying it was ‘doubtless at the request of the authorities’.
Carlson continued: ‘They prevented his tweets from trending which meant most of his tweets couldn’t be seen.
‘According to Weiss, at one point they slapped him with a search ban. That made it impossible for users to find tweets by him, because they were inaccurate?
‘No, because they were accurate. That was the crime. That’s always the crime. They never punish you for lying, they only punish you for telling the truth.’
He added: ‘It was strategic. They weren’t censoring people because they were annoying, they were censoring people because they were providing factual information that might have stopped certain policies or election results from happening.
‘So, you know, this was sophisticated – and had an effect on American society, I would say.’
Conservative commentator Charlie Kirk told Carlson on Thursday night that the report confirmed his long-held suspicions, but said he was angry.
‘They’re treating my Twitter account with more scrutiny and censorship than the prime minister of Iran, than Hamas, than people who do actual terroristic type damage,’ said Charlie Kirk, who was tabbed ‘do not amplify’ in internal tagging.
‘Now we [have] evidence to show that’s exactly why my Twitter account the last couple of years has been down 95 percent in engagement.’
Fox News commentator Dan Bongino, whose account was put on a ‘search blacklist’, said it was ‘Soviet-style bulls***.’
He says he was averaging 115,000 retweets a day at their peak – questioning COVID lockdowns, for example.
‘I was called a conspiracy theorist, I was smeared,’ Kirk told Carlson, adding that he complained and met Dorsey personally. Dorsey assured him that shadow banning was not happening.
Dr Jay Bhattacharya, who argued that COVID lockdowns harmed children, was also placed on a ‘search blacklist’ by Twitter, according to Weiss
Conservative commentators Dan Bongino (left) and Charlie Kirk (right) were censored by Twitter, according to Bari Weiss
Kirk said the social media company was censoring him because ‘they saw what I had to say as a direct threat to the regime.’
He said: ‘They’re treating my Twitter account with more scrutiny and censorship than the prime minister of Iran, than Hamas, than people who do actual terroristic type damage.
‘Now we [have] evidence to show that’s exactly why my Twitter account the last couple [of]years has been down 95 percent in engagement.
‘Were they told to do this by the federal government?’ he asked, describing how he watched the Twitter change from a social media platform into a ‘Democrat super PAC.’
He added: ‘Apparently asking questions about the lockdown policy was a threat. Were they told to do this by Anthony Fauci, by the federal government?
‘We may never know – but Twitter at its best was a place where heterodox ideas were able to spread. Twitter went out of its way to censor it and suffocate our account.’
He said: ‘I’ve been told forever, so weird that I can’t find you on Twitter, you’re a verified account, your name’s not usual, how come you don’t come up?
‘When I spoke about this on my show I was called a conspiracy theorist and a wacko.
‘My website has been banned by Google Ads; I was banned by YouTube for suggesting that cloth masks don’t work, which is now scientifically proven.
‘Now I find I am on a ‘not safe for work’ shadow ban list on Twitter, because I’ve committed the thought crime of being a conservative.’
He added: ‘Tell me again how we live in a free country.’