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The Twitter Files – clandestine state censorship on an epic scale

The decision by Twitter owner Elon Musk to make its internal records available to independent journalists exposed a scandalous level of state meddling in the platform’s content moderation.

While a minority of people in even its biggest countries use Twitter, and only a tiny fraction of those regularly post on it, the social media platform has a disproportionate influence on business, culture and politics. Companies, celebrities and politicians live in such fear of Twitter pile-ons that they rarely hesitate to cave in to even the gentlest pressure applied through it.

This is because the platform has become the de facto digital town square – i.e. the place on the internet where public discussions take place. There are many other social media platforms and countless blogs, forums and comment sections where people can vent their spleens, but the instantaneous and dynamic nature of posting to Twitter makes it the most important digital destination for anyone interested in the current hot topics and debates.

The best illustration of this has to be the account of one Donald J. Trump. The divisive former US President was able to circumvent the media establishment he so despised during his successful presidential campaign by communicating directly with the electorate, principally via Twitter. In fact, it’s impossible to imagine a political novice achieving such success without Twitter. The US establishment belatedly came to the same conclusion, likely resulting in much of what follows.

As the digital town square, Twitter is an incredibly important and powerful tool, potentially for the public good. However, as we’re constantly reminded by those who cheer when Twitter censors their ideological opponents, it is a ‘private company’ and thus ‘can do what it wants’. That is nonsense, of course, as it’s no less constrained by law than the rest of us, but it is free to run itself how it sees fit within those constraints and that includes content moderation decisions.

Many had long suspected that those decisions were opaque, arbitrary and even ideologically biased, but until now that was impossible to prove. One of the apparent motives for Musk’s acquisition of Twitter was to restore its status as a champion of free speech. He immediately acted on that by restoring many accounts that had previously been banned with little explanation or right of appeal. But his most significant move in support of free speech has been to open up Twitter’s internal processes to public scrutiny.

At the start of last December Musk invited a hand-picked group of independent journalists to access Twitter’s historic records to report on them as they saw fit, the only apparent condition being that they initially publish their reporting on the Twitter platform. There followed a steady stream of revelations that, due to the timing and format, are difficult to neatly summarise, and would have been far more impactful as a single, bombshell scoop.

In a bid to encapsulate what has been revealed in a more digestible form, what follows is a summary of every tranche of Twitter files to date, including key tweets and analysis. We’re especially indebted to the creators of this useful archive but most of all to Musk, whose apparent passion for free speech and unfettered public discussion made all this possible.

 

  1. The Twitter Files, Part One: How and Why Twitter Blocked the Hunter Biden Laptop Story

Summary

In the middle of October 2020, just weeks before the conclusion of the US presidential election, the New York Post newspaper published a scoop based on emails accessed via a laptop, apparently owned by the son of then presidential candidate (and eventual winner) Joe Biden. The story suggested Hunter Biden had been instrumental in setting up meetings between his father and a businessman at a Ukrainian energy firm Hunter had recently started working for. The nature and timing of the allegations could have had a significant effect on voter sentiment.

Twitter and Facebook both acted, almost immediately, to limit sharing of the story. Twitter even went so far as preventing direct messages linking to the story and suspending the account of the White House spokesperson merely for discussing it on the platform. The internal reason for doing so was that the story violated Twitter’s ‘hacked materials’ policy, despite there being no evidence to support that assumption and the fact that reporting on ‘hacked’ material is a key facet of journalism.

Key tweet

Analysis

Even at this early stage Taibbi revealed direct requests from ‘the Biden team’ for Twitter to review specific tweets, which were then ‘handled’. The thread didn’t identify any direct requests to censor the NY Post story but the top-level content moderation discussions it did reveal an apparent desire to stretch and corrupt the company’s content moderation policies in order to justify such censorship.

Biden went on to win the ensuing election and, while it’s impossible to prove unfettered distribution of the story would have had a decisive effect, it’s fair to speculate that it was censored out of an abundance of caution over the prospect that it might. Already we were introduced to evidence of direct political influence in Twitter content moderation decisions.

Twitter Files Supplemental

Summary

Taibbi noted that the process of delivering the Twitter files to him, and fellow independent journalist Bari Weiss, had been interrupted since his first thread. It soon emerged that the reason for the disruption was the aforementioned Jim Baker, who was still at Twitter, but not for long.

Key tweet

Analysis

Baker, we were reminded, had been a key figure at the FBI in pushing flimsy Russia-related allegations against Donald Trump, before leaving the Bureau after being accused of leaking information, at which point he joined Twitter. His apparent interference in this process offered another taste of what was to come.

  1. TWITTER’S SECRET BLACKLISTS

Summary

With Baker out of the way, Weiss eventually got hold of the next batch of files. They revealed a very broad range of tools at the disposal of Twitter content moderators, ranging from outright account suspensions to ‘visibility filtering’, otherwise known as shadow-banning. This is the practice of restricting how easy it is to find, share or even see posts by certain accounts.

While Twitter, as we’re constantly reminded, is free to manage itself as it sees fit, the company had previously insisted it doesn’t shadow-ban. Furthermore, most of these measures were taken without the account-holders’ knowledge and with no mechanism for appeal. The nature of many of those accounts subject to unexplained suspensions and shadow-banning once more raised the suspicion that there was an ideological element to the censorship.

Key tweet

Analysis

At the very least this tranche of files revealed Twitter to have been underhand and dishonest in its content moderation activities. On top of enforcing its constantly evolving set of policies, it had apparently reserved the right to punish users it simply disapproved of. Even that would have been OK if it had been transparent about doing so, but it wasn’t, which calls into question the motives of the people making those decisions.

  1. THE REMOVAL OF DONALD TRUMP Part One: October 2020-January 6th

Summary

This is the first of a few investigations into the processes behind the decision to ban Donald Trump, then still the US President, from the platform following the Capitol riots of 6 January 2021. Much of it focuses on how Twitter’s approach to Trump evolved since voting finished in the previous October.

Once more we see policy being made on the fly by a few senior execs, apparently relying as much on intuition and external pressure as a pre-defined policies. One of the most significant sources of external pressure was US state security agencies, with whom Twitter Trust and Safety Head Yoel Roth apparently met on a weekly basis.

Key tweet

Analysis

The unprecedented decision to kick the President off Twitter had immediate profound consequences. A spokesperson for Angela Merkel, then still German Chancellor said “The fundamental right [of freedom of expression] can be interfered with, but along the lines of the law and within the framework defined by the lawmakers. Not according to the decision of the management of social media platforms.”

Knowing those managers were being regularly leant on by US security agencies adds a sinister new character to that decision. While the reporting uncovered no direct evidence of any of those agencies explicitly calling for action against Trump, there is evidence that he was discussed in some of the meetings. Furthermore this investigation was unable to find any discussion of moderation requests received from ‘the Trump campaign, the Trump White House, or Republicans generally’, once more suggesting a one-sided nature to the whole content moderation process.

  1. The Removal of Donald Trump: January 7

Summary

Michael Shellenberger examined internal communications at Twitter the day after the Capitol riot. Already the narrative was being developed that it amounted to an attempted insurrection. Definitions of the word vary, but it’s generally considered to be closer to an armed coup. Nonetheless, attributing that label to the motley rabble that managed to gain entry to the Capitol raised the stakes regarding acceptable responses to their actions.

Trump was being blamed for the riot, thanks mainly to his insistence that he had only lost the recent election due to fraudulent activity and his encouragement of the protest that spawned the riot. Consequently, Twitter was facing a lot of pressure to ban Trump from the platform, lest he use it to incite further mobs.

The problem was that none of Trump’s tweets around that time broke any of Twitters rules, so there was a lot of internal agonising around how they could justify such a ban. There was an apparent desire internally to do so, which tempted the moderation team to stretch their definition of ‘incitement to violence’ and ignore their policy of allowing tweets, even if they do break the rules, if they contribute to the understanding of a matter of public concern.

Key tweet

Analysis

While it’s important to be sympathetic to the dilemmas faced by Twitter management at this exceptionally fraught time, these are also the times when robust internal processes are most important. The evidence presented in this thread implies the company had no hard rules when it came to content moderation which couldn’t be immediately over-ruled by senior insiders.

The thread also shines some light on the apparent coordination of content moderation decisions between different social media platforms. Once Facebook makes a unilateral censorship move, that makes it even more difficult for Twitter to ignore calls for similar action. If any of them had clear, transparent, and strictly enforced policies, they could simply refer to them when receiving censorship requests. But they don’t.

  1. THE REMOVAL OF TRUMP FROM TWITTER

Summary

Bari Weiss is charged with reporting on the following day, when the decision to kick Trump off Twitter was made. As you can see since his account is now reinstated, Trump didn’t tweet at all on 7 Jan 2021 and only three times on 8 Jan. The first was a video calling for calm and conceding defeat in the election, the second was a message of encouragement to all who voted for him, calling them “great American Patriots”, and the third simply said “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

Under continued pressure to suspend Trump’s account, Twitter management searched desperately for a coherent pretext, but struggled to find one in the above tweets. In the end they apparently decided that, if you interpreted the term “American Patriots” as referring specifically to the rioters, then maybe it could be viewed as some kind of violation of Twitter’s ‘glorification of violence’ policy. Pressure was also mounting internally for the Trump ban, which was enacted “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”

Key tweet

Analysis

Weiss listed examples of much more obvious calls to violence by other world leaders on Twitter in the past that had either gone completely unpunished or just removed without any account suspensions. The point of that was to demonstrate the inconsistency of Twitter’s policy enforcement once more and to suggest a greater internal hostility to Trump than even the Iranian leader calling for the eradication of Israel.

There are strong arguments that Trump was, to some extent, culpable for the Capitol riots due to his general rabble rousing, including a tweet for Republicans to ‘fight’ on the morning of 6 January. But that tweet was not interpreted by Twitter as a call to violence either. In the end the decision to ban the account of the former US President was an arbitrary one, made solely in response to internal and external pressure. Twitter management had made themselves the sole arbiters of acceptable speech on their platform regardless of its own policies and any broader public interest.

  1. TWITTER, THE FBI SUBSIDIARY

Summary

Twitter Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth was in weekly email contact with the FBI. Much of it involved the FBI flagging up tweets and accounts that it recommended Twitter consider taking action against. Taibbi reflects on “the master-canine quality of the FBI’s relationship to Twitter,” which apparently extended to other state agencies and their representatives.

Key tweet

Analysis

Imagine being the employee of a US company and receiving a ‘recommendation’ from the FBI. Would you be comfortable ignoring or rejecting it? Surely it would be much easier and safer to simply comply. Many of the issues flagged up by the FBI and others were also very trivial, indicating a remit expanded beyond national security concerns to more general censorship. In other words, this thread once more presents evidence of state censorship by proxy.

  1. The FBI & the Hunter Biden Laptop

Summary

The FBI had warned Twitter to be alert to potential Russian ‘hack and leak’ operations prior to the 2020 Presidential election. It should be noted that Twitter Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth had previously pushed back on some FBI requests, including when it couldn’t find evidence of alleged coordinated foreign influence campaigns. Nonetheless the FBI continued to prime him to expect activity from Russian hacking group APT28.

Meanwhile the FBI had been in possession of the laptop, apparently forgotten about at a computer repair shop, since late 2019. The shop owner had made a copy of the laptop’s hard drive before handing it over and, when he concluded the FBI wasn’t going to act on the evidence of criminal activity he identified on it, he gave that copy to Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who in turn passed it on to the NY Post.

Part 1 of the Twitter Files revealed some of the agonising within Twitter on what to do about the resulting NY Post story. This thread digs deeper into the pressure applied by the FBI for Twitter to censor the story, including via the former general counsel of the FBI Jim Baker who, as we also discovered in part one, had been appointed as a senior member of Twitter’s legal team. In fact, Twitter seemed especially keen to employ former FBI employees.

Key Tweet

Analysis

The FBI had been in possession of the Hunter Biden laptop for months and, through its surveillance of Giuliani, most probably knew a copy of the hard-drive was in circulation. It then made a concerted effort to convince Twitter and other social media that any stories claiming the laptop as a source were likely Russian disinformation. All this creates the impression of the FBI seeking in advance to protect then presidential candidate Joe Biden from the likely highly damaging effects of this story.

How can the unwarranted censorship of a major news story that could have caused severe reputational damage to one of the presidential candidates be viewed as anything other than electoral interference? It seems clear that even Twitter which, as we’ve seen, harboured little affection for the other candidate – Donald Trump – was hesitant to act against the NY Post story, but ultimately allowed itself to be pressured by the FBI into doing so.

  1. How Twitter Quietly Aided the Pentagon’s Covert Online PsyOp Campaign

Summary

Twitter has long taken pride in applying its policies evenly. But this thread by investigative journalist Lee Fang revealed evidence of the company accommodating bogus accounts created by US Central Command (CENTCOM), designed to spread propaganda in support of its foreign activities. Twitter apparently identified many inauthentic accounts run by the US military but usually left them up and, in some cases, actively assisted them.

Key tweet

Analysis

This is yet another piece of evidence indicating a close, covert relationship between Twitter and the US state. The kind of inauthentic, disinformation-spreading activity the company claimed to be so vigilant in banning was, in some cases, actively assisted if it supported the aims of CENTCOM. Not only does this further erode trust in Twitter’s application of its own policies, it also suggests the probability of many other instances of such manipulation by US state actors that have yet to be uncovered.

  1. TWITTER AND “OTHER GOVERNMENT AGENCIES”

Summary

Taibbi was back on the case, looking into the involvement of OGA in applying content moderation to Twitter. It’s an abbreviation for ‘Other Government Agency’, which is apparently how the CIA sometimes likes to refer to itself, just to be extra cloak-and-dagger. At least one Twitter employee was ex-CIA and it seems they acted as some kind of conduit for the agency, which is ostensibly the foreign intelligence service for the US government with no law enforcement function of its own.

OGA was also present at regular meetings of the Foreign Influence Task Force, which otherwise consisted of FBI agents and Twitter execs, at which it would provide a briefing. However, this task force increasingly concerned itself with domestic moderation requests, which ramped sharply as the 2020 presidential election approached. Those requests increasingly flagged up potential violations of Twitter’s policies by domestic accounts, rather than examples of possible foreign influence.

Key tweet

Analysis

This thread is as much about mission-creep as anything else. The CIA is the main US security agency focused on foreign threats, so it makes some sense for it to be invited to the Foreign Influence Task Force in an advisory capacity. Once in the fold, however, who’s to say its role didn’t expand, especially since this task force increasingly concerned itself with domestic influence as the US presidential election approached?

While the FBI (and not the CIA) seems to have some role in protecting electoral integrity, the previously described pressure it applied to Twitter to censor the Hunter Biden laptop story calls into question its objectivity on the matter. It seems the FBI may have collaborated with the CIA to identify a foreign influence angle on otherwise domestic matters.

  1. HOW TWITTER RIGGED THE COVID DEBATE

Summary

Writer David Zweig revealed that the US government pressured Twitter and other social media platforms to elevate some Covid-related content and suppress others. Subsequently Twitter began labelling some tweets, which went against the government line on Covid, as ‘misleading’ and limiting their ability to be seen or shared. In some cases this involved flagging accurate information as misleading, while permitting false claims to remain on the platform without sanction.

One internal Twitter conversation concerned a Donald Trump tweet in which he urged his followers “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.” Jim Baker asked why the tweet didn’t violate Twitter’s COVID-19 policy and Yoel Roth had to explain that optimistic statements don’t fall within the published scope of its policies.

Key tweet

Analysis

Twitter was, of course, free to apply whatever arbitrary constraints on the discussion of Covid it wanted, but once more it seemed to be pressured in a certain direction by the US government. Subsequent legal actions have exposed the White House calling for individuals to be kicked off Twitter and the White House being reassured by Facebook that it is censoring ‘often-true content’ that still may risk vaccine hesitancy.

Leaving aside the ongoing debate regarding the efficacy of vaccines, and even their universal necessity, the apparent desire to silence dissent about a vaccine that had had been developed and approved much more quickly than usual, using novel technology, is concerning. By definition there will have been little adverse event data, some of which is only emerging now, so the collaboration between government and social media to create a false sense of unquestioned consensus seems like a gross abuse of power.

  1. How Twitter Let the Intelligence Community In

Summary

Taibbi revealed that in 2017, having previously concluded it didn’t have a problem with Russian disinformation on its platform, political pressure led Twitter to launch a full investigation. When that was unable to uncover much they broadened the criteria but even then only dug up a couple of ‘significant’ accounts, one of which was RT.

This exacerbated Twitter’s political predicament, which was complicated by apparent tactical leaking to the media by, among others, the ‘Intel Committee’. Twitter eventually concluded that it would be easier if it just banned any account identified by ‘the US intelligence community’ (USIC) as a hostile, state-sponsored entity.

Key tweet

Analysis

The value of this thread comes as much as anything from what it highlights about how the powerful use the media to achieve their tactical and strategic goals. The USIC was able to indirectly pressure Twitter, with politicians and the media as proxies, to censor accounts Twitter itself had no problem with. We are now in a culture when key decisions are often made, not on their own merits, but in response to public pressure. Ironically, Twitter is probably the single most effective enabler of that pressure.

  1. Twitter and the FBI “Belly Button”

Summary

The same day, but in a new thread, Taibbi reported that yet another US state agency – the Global Engagement Center (GEC) – was keen to get involved in the Twitter censorship fun. It copied the playbook of leaking allegations to the media in order to put Twitter under public pressure and even got the FBI to lobby for its inclusion in the aforementioned USIC meetings. But Twitter and other social media companies pushed back, in part because of “the GEC’s mandate of offensive IO to promote American interests.”

As a compromise, the FBI put itself forward as the primary point of contact for the US government in general with Twitter. Nonetheless, Twitter continued to receive demands from countless US government agencies for it to censor according to the FBI’s recommendations, including a demand from a prominent politician to act against a named journalist. Through this FBI ‘belly button’ Twitter ended up indirectly bending to the will of the GEC after all. Once this thin end of the wedge was established, US state censorship requests ramped rapidly.

Key tweet

Analysis

If at first you don’t succeed… It was hard not to feel sorry for Twitter after reviewing this thread as it’s clear that the US state won’t be denied when it’s set on an objective. Having established that the labelling of an account as a hostile foreign actor was the only pretext needed to demand its censorship, the government’s countless agencies all joined in the feeding frenzy, with the FBI acting as the funnel for all their requests.

The slow constriction of public and private pressure, with every minor concession exploited in order to demand more, proved irresistible. This technique was made especially effective by the lack of alternatives to Twitter, something the establishment may well have had a hand in ensuring, which meant US state interests could concentrate all their pressure in one direction. Having let one cuckoo into the nest, Twitter left itself at the mercy of countless other state actors.

  1. How a top Pfizer board member used the same Twitter lobbyist as the White House to suppress debate on Covid vaccines

Summary

Journalist Alex Berenson, who had successfully sued for his reinstatement after the White House had apparently pressured Twitter into banning him (linked to in part 10), focused on an email from Dr. Scott Gottlieb to lobbyist Todd O’Boyle. Gottlieb is a distinguished health professional and board member at pharma giant Pfizer, one of the makers of a Covid vaccine. According to Berenson, O’Boyle was also Twitter’s point of contact with the White House.

In a break with the format so far, Berenson saved most of his reporting for his own Substack platform (although he did publish a full Twitter thread the next day). Among the Twitter Files Berenson found evidence of Gottlieb, via O’Boyle, complaining to Twitter about a tweet from another very senior clinician, which asserted that natural immunity is superior to vaccine immunity. Twitter subsequently attached a ‘misleading’ label to the tweet.

Key tweet

Analysis

If a board member of Pfizer was making specific censorship requests of Twitter, that opens up yet another channel through which the platform was being secretly influenced by powerful forces. Furthermore Pfizer had a direct commercial interest in suppressing public scepticism about the vaccines as sales of its Covid vaccine – Comirnaty – would total $36,781 million in 2021, six times more than its second-best selling product. So it’s reasonable to question Gottlieb’s motives in applying this censorship pressure.

  1. THE RUSSIAGATE LIES

Summary

Taibbi turned his attention to the ‘Russiagate’ affair, which alleged the campaign to elect Donald Trump in 2016 colluded with Russia in some way, eventually being proved wrong in 2019. In early 2018 Republican Congressman and Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes wrote a memo alleging abuses by the FBI in obtaining surveillance authority against Trump-connected figures. A Twitter hashtag – #ReleaseTheMemo – started trending, soon followed by attempts to link it to Russian influence operations.

Within Twitter no evidence could be found of Russian influence in the dissemination of the hashtag, but execs were still cautious about saying so publicly for fear of antagonising some Democrat politicians who were determined to stick with the ‘Russian bot’ narrative. Much of the media also stuck with it, despite there being no hard evidence to support the assertion.

Key Tweet

Analysis

Russiagate dominated much of Trump’s presidency. The fact that it turned out to be groundless, while a colossal scandal, is incidental to this thread, which instead concerns itself with similarly fabricated allegations against a hashtag. Twitter was once more being pressured by political forces who were concerned only with achieving their tactical and strategic aims, regardless of the truth.

  1. More Adam Schiff Ban Requests, and “Deamplification”

Summary

This short thread from Taibbi details more specific censorship requests from politicians, as mentioned in section 12. People acting on behalf of Democrat Representative Adam Schiff even went so far ask to ask for all searches for Sean Misko and other members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which Schiff chairs, to be suppressed.

Key tweet

Analysis

Yet another piece of evidence that the US government, in this case an elected politician, sought to pressure Twitter into censoring material they didn’t like. Again, the real scandal is that this was done behind the scenes with no visibility to Twitter users. The increasingly broad and trivial nature of the requests indicates how unexceptional these demands for censorship from the US state had become.

  1. How the pharmaceutical industry lobbied social media to shape content around vaccine policy

Summary

Lee Fang is back to report on lobbying of Twitter by sections of the pharmaceutical industry after the first Covid vaccines were unveiled. Major biotech advocacy group Bio funded a ‘special content moderation campaign’ by PGP (the Public Good Projects), called Stronger. PGP specialises in, among other things ‘social and behavior change interventions’, while the stated aim of Stronger is to ‘stop the spread of harmful misinformation about science, medicine, and vaccines.’

Inevitably, the definition of ‘harmful misinformation’ turned out to be somewhat subjective and some of these ‘behavior change interventions’ focused on anything that challenged the pro-vaccine narrative, however otherwise truthful it may have been. Conversely Fang could find no evidence of this bid to purify Twitter extending to tweets from drug companies.

Key tweet

Analysis

This thread is a great illustration of how the powerful sometimes go about shaping the narrative. Organisations like PGP boast about offering Orwellian services like ‘behavior change interventions’, while at the same time claiming to oppose ‘misinformation’, presumably as defined by their paying customers. These sorts of services used to focus on the traditional media but a pivot towards social media is inevitable, and it’s easy to see how censorship pressure can be applied to them through this channel.

 

Commentary and conclusions

There is a certain type of person that seeks to control as much as possible. They’re a small minority, since most of us have made our peace with how little we can or should control, but they inevitably have a disproportionate influence.

We can all relate to the control-obsessed personality type. Who, as a child or student, didn’t once think the world would be a better place if only they were in charge? In human affairs, the word ‘power’ is used to describe that imposition of will onto the outside world. History shows that power is nearly always accrued, not by those best able to wield it for the common good, but by those who crave it the most. For most of human history power was acquired and retained by brute force but latterly a more consensual approach evolved.

The rules used to ensure civil society only work if they are applied equally to all, through a concept known as ‘due process’. They fundamentally serve to protect the average person from the powerful by constraining their actions within established, transparent parameters. Hence, it’s only due process that keeps tyranny at bay.

The Twitter Files paint a picture of censorship imposed on the social media world by the US state and its proxies that amounts to a clear attempt to circumvent due process and exercise power via the back door. They presumably knew there would be massive public backlash if they had attempted such things through transparent law-making, so they simply sought more sneaky ways to go about them.

The electoral upsets of 2016 brought into clear focus how social media had supplanted traditional media in its ability to influence political outcomes. It was soon clear, initially through the Cambridge Analytica non-scandal, that there were many interests determined to ensure there would be no repeat by imposing their will on social media, an objective simplified by the fact that nearly all of it is controlled by a handful of a few US tech companies.

So the past few years have seen politicians in the US and elsewhere make a big show of attacking these supposed monopolists, but little of consequence has resulted. Could they, instead, have merely been seeking to generate bargaining chips to exchange for a seat at the ‘content moderation’ table? The Twitter files could just be the start of a flood of revelations supporting this theory, as the recent reporting on ‘the Facebook Files’ suggests.

Social media has also massively empowered another form of power seeking, through which otherwise powerless individuals band together to exercise collective power. While many such people are doubtless well-meaning, it’s still fair to refer to them collectively as a ‘mob’, given the ad hoc, unilateral nature of their actions. The control of these mobs confers considerable proxy power.

UK MP Tony Benn summed up the tension at the heart of civil society with the following key questions for the powerful: “”What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?”

Those questions could be condensed to: “who decides?” which is also the best response to anyone calling for censorship. In most cases civil libertarians would answer “due process”, while would-be tyrants would answer “me”. The ability to control what is said is an enormous power and one that should only be conferred, if at all, through the most rigorous due process (and if these concepts are of interest you may enjoy my novel, in which I attempt to explore them and many others). The Twitter files reveal wholesale attempts to circumvent due process in the name of state censorship and that’s why it’s such an important story.

Perhaps the best example of an attempt to impose due process on a society is the US Constitution. The first amendment of the US constitution states that congress should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise. It protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The above summaries are offered to help you come to your own conclusions but I’m struggling to view much of what has been revealed so far in the Twitter Files as anything other than state censorship. So surely there are clear First Amendment issues at stake here, not to mention the indirect electoral interference implied by the censorship of the NY Post Hunter Biden story.

Maybe a repeat of the 1975 Church Committee, which investigated abuses by the FBI, CIA, NSA and IRS, is overdue. The US Republican party seems to think so, wasting little time after regaining control of the House in creating a ‘Select Subcommittee to investigate  the Weaponization of the Federal Government.’

In the first video below you can see Republican Congressman Tom McClintock arguing in favour of the committee, while this op-ed from former Democrat Senator Gary Hart may more broadly represent the opposition to it. In the second video below you can see how journalist Glenn Greenwald, who was behind the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on NSA over-reach in 2013, sees parallels between that and the Twitter Files.

There are bound to be people who seek to poison the well by calling into question the credibility of the reporters, or Musk’s motives. But whatever you think of Musk, if you’re in favour of transparency, accountability and due process you have to be grateful that he used his considerable financial power to expose how others are exercising even greater power in far more clandestine and profound ways.

 

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2 comments

  1. Avatar Gábor Ery 25/01/2023 @ 9:31 am

    This was a very interesting, informative and unusual article on Telecoms.com. I very much enjoyed reading it.
    Just one comment: please correct the year in the dates of the Capitol riot and surrounding events. It was repeatedly written as 2020 instead of 2021 in the first part of the article.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 25/01/2023 @ 2:00 pm

      Thanks for the feedback. I only found two instances and corrected them.

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