by Sharon Rondeau
(Dec. 12, 2022) — On Saturday independent journalist Michael Shellenberger released “Twitter Files 4” revealing internal communications among top Twitter executives to craft a justification for suspending then-President Donald J. Trump’s account two days after the January 6, 2021 incursion at the U.S. Capitol.
As revealed by earlier “Twitter Files” releases by journalists Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss beginning December 2, high-level company employees, particularly former head of Trust & Safety Yoel Roth, had been reducing the visibility of Trump’s account and discussing ways to reduce his reach further in the weeks prior to January 6.
The releases continue as Twitter’s new CEO, Elon Musk, has pledged to restore “trust” in the platform by exposing former executives’ manipulation of “Twitter rules” to censor viewpoints they disliked.
In early 2020, Roth told NPR that one of his responsibilities was to “fight election disinformation” in a “particularly divisive political moment here in the United States.” He was criticized at the time by Trump and one of his senior advisers, Kellyanne Conway.
In 2017, Newsweek reported in May 2020, Roth compared Conway to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, and issued several other tweets in the same vein as reported by New York Post journalist Jon Levine.
At the time of Newsweek‘s article, Twitter began labeling Trump’s claims that mail-in ballots have a high potential for fraud with the statement, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.”
Beginning in October 2020, internal messages indicate, Twitter managers, including Roth, met with members of the FBI, DHS and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to discuss the upcoming presidential election. In particular, the FBI cautioned Twitter about a “hack-and-leak” operation fitting the Hunter Biden laptop story, which Twitter immediately suppressed when The New York Post published it on October 14, 2020.
Facebook, too, suppressed distribution of the story, CEO Mark Zuckerberg told podcaster Joe Rogan in August, based on FBI warnings of a “Russian propaganda” campaign in the run-up to the election.
Although 51 former U.S. national-intelligence officials in a letter suggested the Hunter Biden laptop narrative was a “Russian information operation,” the laptop contents as reported by The Post have proved accurate and demonstrate that as then-vice president, Joe Biden was aware, and involved with, his son’s overseas business dealings.
On Sunday, former DNI John Ratcliffe told “Sunday Morning Futures” host Maria Bartiromo that his office did not approve meetings with Twitter or any other company with the purpose of discussing “content moderation.” Rather, he said:
None of those meetings, Maria, would have had anything to do with content moderation, much less anything to do with specifically about the Biden laptop as Russian disinformation. So there never would have been any authority or reason for anyone within the intelligence community to be saying anything otherwise.
So I think that’s pretty clearly stated. And in looking at the Twitter files, I did look and see in Matt Taibbi’s substack where he said that there were weekly meetings between the FBI and DHS and Twitter. And I know there are whistle-blowers that are saying that as well.
But Matt Taibbi also says there was only one reference to my office and someone liaising with my office. And I assume that that — I certainly hope that that was part of the National Security Council-approved process for election security briefings.
“Public-interest exceptions” existed at the time for “world leaders” who violated written Twitter policies but whose commentary “directly contributes to understanding or discussion of a matter of public concern,” a Twitter advertising executive stated in the messages Shellenberger released, although that standard would be abandoned shortly thereafter in regard to Trump.
As noted in another Twitter exchange, Facebook and subsidiary Instagram suspended Trump’s official accounts on January 7, 2021. “Social media takes a stand,” ABC News reported in its headline that day.
Facebook later declared a “two-year ban” on Trump through January 2023, citing “heightened penalties for public figures during times of civil unrest and ongoing violence.”
The Twitter message states that then-CEO Jack Dorsey determined that “we will permanently suspend [Trump] if our policies are violated after a 12 hour account lock.” The “senior executive” asked for clarification which came in the response, “ANY” policy violation.” [sic]
On January 8, unnamed Twitter employees produced a rationale justifying the platform’s shuttering of Trump’s account:
“Twitter Files 5” was expected to be released by Weiss on Sunday; as of press time at 9:45 a.m. Monday, they had not yet appeared in her timeline.
At the same time, Twitter CEO Elon Musk tweeted that “The Branch Covidians are upset” and “The woke mind virus is either defeated or nothing else matters.”
Musk has recently expressed his disagreement with decisions made by U.S. public health agencies and in particular, by outgoing NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, response to the COVID-19 “pandemic.”