Documents show how ‘Russiagate’ was used to censor Twitter
Democrats threatened regulations and leaked to the press to force the platform
Internal Twitter documents released Tuesday show how the social media platform came under pressure to follow the US intelligence community’s lead on censorship in 2017. Top US Congressional Democrats, a UK university and two outlets – Politico and BuzzFeed – played a major role in the process, which revolved around the “Russiagate” conspiracy theory, according to Matt Taibbi’s research.
In a pattern established in just six weeks, from August to October 2017, Twitter went from being on no one’s radar to receiving orders from American spies on who to censor, Taibbi wrote in Substack.
“First came the threats from Congress, then a quick flurry of nasty headlines (inspired by leaks from Congressional committees), and finally a series of demands for moderation from the outside,” he added.
In a tweet of 30 threadsTaibbi showed emails and other internal documents he obtained, courtesy of new Twitter owner Elon Musk.
Democrats have accused Russia of helping Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election. Their claim that Trump has ties to Moscow is a “case” made by a British spy. From there, they hinted that WikiLeaks releasing internal DNC documents and personal Clinton campaign emails had something to do with Moscow, while “Russian Robots and Trolls” post “disinformation” on social media that somehow undermined the election.
In August 2017, Facebook purged the accused accounts “linked to Russia”. Undeterred, Twitter sent a list of 22 “can” Russian accounts to Senate Intelligence Committee, only to be exposed by Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat.
At the end of September, Twitter’s vice president for public policy, Colin Crowell, was Warning this “Warner has a political incentive to keep this issue front and center, to keep the pressure on us and [the] rest of the industry to continue producing material for them. Crowell also noted that Democrats are “inspired by Hillary Clinton”, and only Warner and his House counterpart, Congressman Adam Schiff, are seeking comment from social media companies.
Meanwhile, as Taibbi said, “a torrent of stories from [committee] poured into the news,” while several senators – including Warner but also John McCain, an anti-Trump Republican from Arizona – proposed bills that would have exploded on social media.
A “Russia Task Force” set up by Twitter on October 2 found “no evidence of a concerted strategy” before October 13. The final report on October 23 found “32 suspicious accounts and only 17 of them are related to Russia.” Of these, only two spent nearly $10,000 on advertising – and RT was one of them.
Policy Director Carlos Monje admitted on October 18 note this “Our advertising policy and product changes are intended to anticipate Congressional review.” One such change was the October 26 ban on RT and Sputnik advertising.
A Nov. 22 internal emails accuse the Senate Intelligence Committee of leaking an internal Twitter report to the media. A Politico story accusing Twitter of deleting files is followed by a BuzzFeed article accusing a German botnet of “signs of being connected to Russia.” The committee is requesting a report based on the story, written by Twitter’s Yoel Roth.
“You can see how the Russian cyber threat has essentially been summoned, with political and media pressure acting as a driving force, amplifying something that Twitter considers trivial and out of proportion,” Taibbi wrote.
All of this translates to internal instructions forbid anything “Identified by the US Intelligence Community as a state-sponsored entity conducting cyber operations.” This is the first step in a process that will ultimately lead to the FBI and the Biden White House telling Twitter who to censor.