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Twitter Files: Missouri v. Biden Edition

Editor's note: Journalist, author, and podcaster Matt Taibbi asks if there is such a thing as the “Censorship Enterprise” and then provides convincing evidence that indeed there is, in the form of email exchanges between government officials and social media companies. The question revolves around the US federal case of Missouri v. Biden, in which the attorneys general of the states of Missouri and Louisiana along with five individuals sued the Biden administration for allegedly colluding with and coercing social media platforms “to suppress disfavored speakers, viewpoints and content.” The targeted topics include Hunter Biden’s laptop, the lab leak theory of Covid-19, the efficiency of Covid-19 vaccines, election integrity in the 2020 election, as well as parody about the government, and negative posts about the economy and President Biden.

The plaintiffs argued that such pressure on social media constitutes government action to violate their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Looking at the evidence that the plaintiffs provided, Louisiana federal judge Terry Doughty ruled on July 4 that the government had “significantly encouraged” and “coerced” tech platforms into censoring content. In a victory for free speech, Judge Doughty ordered a preliminary injunction to stop the government from contacting and coercing social media, saying that, “If the allegations made by the Plaintiffs are true, the present case arguably involves the most massive attack against free speech in the United States’ history.”

After introducing the issue, Mat Taibbi provides verbatim email exchanges between government officials from various departments and personnel of the social media companies. The information he presents is astonishing. Government officials are sometimes blatant in their demands to delete undesired posts and even to cancel accounts. The tech companies are sometimes almost obsequious in complying with such directives.

How likely is it that “unacceptable views” are also being censored in Canada? Will Bills C-11 and C-18 really “protect” Canadian content or is their real purpose to allow government to control what Canadians can say and read? Will there be a Judge Doughty to protect the free speech rights of Canadians?

 

Is there such a thing as a "Censorship Enterprise"? Unpublished material from the Twitter Files provides more evidence for the Attorneys General's case

I know I said I wasn’t going to do this, but since I’m persona non grata on Twitter these days and this material needs to get out in the wake of the ruling in the Missouri v. Biden internet censorship case, I’m invoking a political necessity exception to post #TwitterFiles emails that may be germane to the suit.


If the Attorneys General who filed the case are reading, there’s a lot in the Files pertaining to the lawsuit’s named defendants, plus a few items (some examples below) pertaining to plaintiffs. A far larger amount of material seems relevant to the broader argument of the case, i.e. that companies like Twitter feared regulation and made content moderation decisions with this in mind. For the purposes of this article, I mostly left those docs out. What follows is just a small sample of other emails and documents pointing to the “Censorship Enterprise.”


To recap: last week, federal judge Terry Doughty issued an order barring a long list of federal agencies — from the FBI to the CDC to Homeland Security to the State Department and many more — from “meeting with social-media companies” to suppress protected free speech. This was a victory both for free speech and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and Missouri’s Andrew Bailey, and some validation for Twitter Files reporters like Lee Fang, Michael Shellenberger, Bari Weiss, myself, and others, who took heat for coming to similar conclusions as the Attorneys General.

Legacy media has been in a panic about the ruling ever since it came out on Independence Day. Either they’ve said stopping the deep state from censoring Americans is bad, like this amazing sad-clown New York Times headline:

Or they’ve doubled down and continued to insist the censoring isn’t happening, à la Clinton speechwriter Michael Waldman going on MSNBC to decry the “conspiracy theory that somehow government has been censoring social media.” Another Times piece even insisted “collusion” between social media companies like Twitter and the government was “far from proven”:

Is it “far from proven”? I took a look back to check, and it didn’t take long to recall that “collusion between [the] company and government officials” was so commonplace as to be beyond argument.

THANK YOU FOR THE ONGOING COLLABORATION: one of many “USG industry meeting” emails sent to Twitter, Verizon, Microsoft, Pinterest, and many others

There’s broad evidence backing up the Missouri v. Biden claims of a “Censorship Enterprise,” including coordination with the FBI, DHS, the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, numerous unnamed intelligence partners, even Census officials and the Democratic National Committee.


For example, Judge Doughty in his ruling said the government “significantly encouraged” and “coerced” tech platforms into censoring content. What might “significant encouragement” look like?


Here’s the whole scheme, in one picture:

On June 11, 2020: a senior FBI official in Washington emailed the FBI’s San Francisco office, asking about three accounts: @deepnotion2, @go_trump_2019, and @thePOTUSBox, and to advise of any “actions taken.” The FBI agent in San Francisco passed the note to a Twitter lawyer. The next day, Twitter responded: “We have suspended the accounts.”


From FBI whim in DC to Bay Area Twitter suspension, the sequence took about 24 hours. It wasn’t written as a direct order, but subsequent events showed it might as well have been.


Though a senior Twitter lawyer in that case ordered the accounts suspended, a technical issue left them still up two weeks later, triggering a “WTF?” email from the original FBI man:

Translation: we sent a letter two weeks ago, why [expletives deleted] are these accounts still up? Also, while you’re cleaning up that mess, could you send us a new list of “linked” accounts for “lead purposes”?


To quote Office Space, Twitter Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth quickly apologized and “fixed the glitch”:

Roth then asked, in the gentlest language possible, if the FBI could possibly share with Twitter why those accounts needed to come down, since “we don’t at this time have clear indication that they’re foreign.” If “we zapped the account, now could you send us the reason?” isn’t good enough to convince people of the nature of this relationship, I don’t know what would be.

Another analyst even told Roth one of the accounts “came back as Canadian.” All got suspended anyway.

Twitter viewed its relationship with the FBI as a “tight, well-coordinated partnership that was based on trust”:

The executive above even decided to prepare a “letter of thanks” in recognition of their partnership with the Feds, since “this work is close-hold and we will never get public credit.”


The letter was prepared and sent only after former FBI General Counsel turned Twitter attorney Jim Baker warned “we should be mindful that the letters could leak and will be subject to FOIA”:

Twitter did almost anything the FBI asked, and the asks included enormous quantities of “requests.” The #TwitterFiles are full of these lists of accounts to review, some as long as 31 pages, some involving only foreigners, some involving domestic accounts.


When it came to foreign accounts, the FBI and other agencies barely kept up the pretense that the censorship decision was up to Twitter, leading to amusing Freudian slips like the intelligence report below. In it, the FBI, concerned about “anti-US rhetoric” by Cubans, wrote that “any violations of your terms of service would be greatly appreciated”:

What about other political groups? In one letter, a senior Twitter attorney listed partnerships with House and Senate Committees, the DHS, FBI, the “IC,” the Census Bureau, and the Global Engagement Center at State. But the most interesting notation reads, “I continue to work with the DNC on high-profile escalations including parody accounts, whitelisting URLs, and Tweets engaging in voter suppression.” There’s no corresponding notation for the RNC.

What did working with the DNC on “high-profile escalations” look like? In the case of the Hunter Biden laptop story, it meant taking action against an article by the Missouri v. Biden plaintiff Gateway Pundit that contained airbrushed images from Hunter Biden videos, as well as “information on how to look up and view the videos in question,” which Twitter decided was violative.


Some would say that’s fair, since “non-consensual nudity” (NCN) is a violation of Twitter’s policies. This was a consistent criticism of the Twitter Files from the start, that the DNC was only asking for material that should be taken down anyway. But even Twitter didn’t think the large numbers of other tweets from ordinary people reported by the DNC for merely linking to the Gateway Pundit deserved takedowns:

Ultimately, Twitter decided tweets by “Deploradorable Karyn” and others were “non-actionable” as non-consensual nudity, so they ordered a “spam review,” resulting in suspensions for a different reason. Nearly all those accounts were suspended shortly after.

BEFORE AND AFTER: Twitter thought @notaqueenatall’s tweet was “non-actionable,” but it got suspended anyway

Twitter was aware of the link between politics and content moderation. When deciding whether or not to remove a tweet suggesting that some of the Hunter Biden laptop images contained pictures of the daughter of Senator Chris Coons, Twitter executives reminded each other that CEO Jack Dorsey would have to appear before Coons in a hearing in three weeks:

Another plaintiff, Harvard’s Martin Kulldorff, was actioned even though he tweeted something true, namely that “thinking that everyone must be vaccinated is as scientifically flawed as thinking that nobody should”:

Twitter relied on CDC guidelines to strike Kulldorff’s tweet:

Lastly, one group of emails from the FBI gives insight into why officials feel they need to censor content. In this exchange, a senior FBI official asks Twitter about an Oxford study claiming that “RT (and other state media) is outpacing traditional mainstream outlets,” in this case in regard to Covid-19 in Western Europe:

Twitter’s Roth responded, almost apologetically, that the thing about content is, if there’s a “well-developed channel for the dissemination of propaganda,” then content “tends to reach eager and interested audiences.” In other words, if people are interested in a thing, they’ll read it:

To which the FBI man stubbornly replied that although he may not have had evidence that audiences for foreign state actors were artificially boosted, and would “need some academic research” to back that idea up, it “seems intuitive”:

This is not unlike what goes on in the boardrooms of big media companies. Roth is not-so-subtly telling the FBI man that even RT in Europe might just be organically more popular than “traditional mainstream media,” among other things because the latter sucks. The FBI man can’t quite believe it and re-expresses his suspicion of “overlap between state media and inauthentic activity.” Western government messaging just can’t be that unpopular, can it?


There were similar exchanges when officials reached out to Twitter to ask if a foreign power was behind hashtags like #WalkAway or accounts like @wentDemToRep. In the latter case, the Washington Post strongly implied that Russia was behind the effort, but when senior FBI officials contacted Twitter to get more information (sending the Washington Post piece as context), Roth again had to let them down gently, telling them “the account in question is domestic” and “we saw no evidence” of foreign interference. In fact, he said there was “a lot of strong evidence pointing in the opposite direction.”


The Attorneys General in Missouri v. Biden already have more than enough to prove an across-government “Censorship Enterprise,” but if they dig deeper, this is what they’ll find: more communications in which ordinary accounts are removed by tech platforms that seem afraid of their “government partners,” and anxious to do anything to keep them happy.

 

This article was originally published on racket.news website and can be accessed here.

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