The relationship between Twitter and the FBI in 2019 and thereafter can best be described as a close — and criminal — partnership focused on censoring of individuals and organizations
The FBI criminally partnered with Twitter to abridge the free speech of Americans. The FBI, in response to the release of the Twitter Files, has flippantly dismissed that charge as a “conspiracy theory.”
1. THREAD: The Twitter Files, Part Six
TWITTER, THE FBI SUBSIDIARY
— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) December 16, 2022
A thread by Matt Taibbi
THREAD: The Twitter Files, Part Six
TWITTER, THE FBI SUBSIDIARY
The #TwitterFiles are revealing more every day about how the government collects, analyzes, and flags your social media content. Twitter’s contact with the FBI was constant and pervasive, as if it were a subsidiary. Between January 2020 and November 2022, there were over 150 emails between the FBI and former Twitter Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth. Some are mundane, like San Francisco agent Elvis Chan wishing Roth a Happy New Year along with a reminder to attend “our quarterly call next week.” Others are requests for information into Twitter users related to active investigations. But a surprisingly high number are requests by the FBI for Twitter to take action on election misinformation, even involving joke tweets from low-follower accounts. The FBI’s social media-focused task force, known as FTIF, created in the wake of the 2016 election, swelled to 80 agents and corresponded with Twitter to identify alleged foreign influence and election tampering of all kinds. Federal intelligence and law enforcement reach into Twitter included the Department of Homeland Security, which partnered with security contractors and think tanks to pressure Twitter to moderate content. It’s no secret the government analyzes bulk data for all sorts of purposes, everything from tracking terror suspects to making economic forecasts. The #TwitterFiles show something new: agencies like the FBI and DHS regularly sending social media content to Twitter through multiple entry points, pre-flagged for moderation. What stands out is the sheer quantity of reports from the government. Some are aggregated from public hotlines:
unanswered question: do agencies like FBI and DHS do in-house flagging work themselves, or farm it out? “You have to prove to me that inside the fucking government you can do any kind of massive data or AI search,” says one former intelligence officer. (12.An) “HELLO TWITTER CONTACTS”: The master-canine quality of the FBI’s relationship to Twitter comes through in this November 2022 email, in which “FBI San Francisco is notifying you” it wants action on four accounts:
Twitter personnel in that case went on to look for reasons to suspend all four accounts, including @fromma, whose tweets are almost all jokes (see sample below), including his “civic misinformation” of Nov. 8:
Just to show the FBI can be hyper-intrusive in both directions, they also asked Twitter to review a blue-leaning account for a different joke, except here it was even more obvious that @clairefosterPHD, who kids a lot, was kidding:
“Anyone who cannot discern obvious satire from reality has no place making decisions for others or working for the feds,” said @ClaireFosterPHD, when told about the flagging. Of the six accounts mentioned in the previous two emails, all but two – @ClaireFosterPHD and @FromMa – were suspended. an internal email from November 5, 2022, the FBI’s National Election Command Post, which compiles and sends on complaints, sent the SF field office a long list of accounts that “may warrant additional action”: (18.In)
Agent Chan passed the list on to his “Twitter folks”:
Twitter then replied with its list of actions taken. Note mercy shown to actor Billy Baldwin:
Many of the above accounts were satirical in nature, nearly all (with the exceptions of Baldwin and @RSBNetwork) were relatively low engagement, and some were suspended, most with a generic, “Thanks, Twitter” letter:
When told of the FBI flagging, @Lexitollah replied: “My thoughts initially include 1. Seems like prima facie 1A violation 2. Holy cow, me, an account with the reach of an amoeba 3. What else are they looking at?”
“I can’t believe the FBI is policing jokes on Twitter. That’s crazy,” said @Tiberius444. a letter to former Deputy General Counsel (and former top FBI lawyer) Jim Baker on Sep. 16, 2022, legal exec Stacia Cardille outlines results from her “soon to be weekly” meeting with DHS, DOJ, FBI, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence: (24.In)
The Twitter exec writes she explicitly asked if there were “impediments” to the sharing of classified information “with industry.” The answer? “FBI was adamant no impediments to sharing exist.”
This passage underscores the unique one-big-happy-family vibe between Twitter and the FBI. With what other firm would the FBI blithely agree to “no impediments” to classified information? the bottom of that letter, she lists a series of “escalations” apparently raised at the meeting, which were already “handled.” (27.At)
About one, she writes: “Flagged a specific Tweet on Illinois use of modems to transmit election results in possible violation of the civic integrity policy (except they do use that tech in limited circumstances).”
Another internal letter from January, 2021 shows Twitter execs processing an FBI list of “possible violative content” tweets:
, too, most tweets contained the same, “Get out there and vote Wednesday!” trope and had low engagement. This is what the FBI spends its time on: (30.Here)
In this March, 2021 email, an FBI liaison thanks a senior Twitter exec for the chance to speak to “you and the team,” then delivers a packet of “products”:
The executive circulates the “products,” which are really DHS bulletins stressing the need for greater collaboration between law enforcement and “private sector partners.”
The ubiquity of the 2016 Russian interference story as stated pretext for building out the censorship machine can’t be overstated. It’s analogous to how 9/11 inspired the expansion of the security state.
While the DHS in its “products” pans “permissive” social media for offering “operational advantages” to Russians, it also explains that the “Domestic Violent Extremist Threat” requires addressing “information gaps”:
FBI in one case sent over so many “possible violative content” reports, Twitter personnel congratulated each other in Slack for the “monumental undertaking” of reviewing them:
There were multiple points of entry into Twitter for government-flagged reports. This letter from Agent Chan to Roth references Teleporter, a platform through which Twitter could receive reports from the FBI:
Reports also came from different agencies. Here, an employee recommends “bouncing” content based on evidence from “DHS etc”:
State governments also flagged content. Twitter for instance received reports via the Partner Support Portal, an outlet created by the Center for Internet Security, a partner organization to the DHS. “WHY WAS NO ACTION TAKEN?” Below, Twitter execs – receiving an alert from California officials, by way of “our partner support portal” – debate whether to act on a Trump tweet:
, a video was reported by the Election Integrity Project (EIP) at Stanford, apparently on the strength of information from the Center for Internet Security (CIS): (41.Here)
If that’s confusing, it’s because the CIS is a DHS contractor, describes itself as “partners” with the Cyber and Internet Security Agency (CISA) at the DHS:
The EIP is one of a series of government-affiliated think tanks that mass-review content, a list that also includes the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Laboratory, and the University of Washington’s Center for Informed Policy. The takeaway: what most people think of as the “deep state” is really a tangled collaboration of state agencies, private contractors, and (sometimes state-funded) NGOs. The lines become so blurred as to be meaningless. Twitter Files researchers are moving into a variety of new areas now. Watch @BariWeiss, @ShellenbergerMD, and this space for more, soon.
In response to the above revelations, the FBI responded by issuing a statement that is memorialized at the NY Post:
FBI blasts ‘conspiracy theorists’ over ‘Twitter Files,’ claims to provide ‘critical information’ to ‘protect’ company
The FBI said Wednesday that revelations agents pressured Twitter to muzzle its own users for so-called “misinformation” and “foreign influence” and falsely warned of a “hack-and-leak” operation involving first son Hunter Biden were just business as usual.
“The correspondence between the FBI and Twitter show nothing more than examples of our traditional, longstanding and ongoing federal government and private sector engagements, which involve numerous companies over multiple sectors and industries,” the FBI told The Post in a statement in response to the latest jaw-dropping revelations from the “Twitter Files.”
“As evidenced in the correspondence,” the bureau went on, “the FBI provides critical information to the private sector in an effort to allow them to protect themselves and their customers.
“The men and women of the FBI work every day to protect the American public,” the statement concluded. “It is unfortunate that conspiracy theorists and others are feeding the American public misinformation with the sole purpose of attempting to discredit the agency.”
On Monday, independent journalist Michael Shellenberger revealed that the FBI pushed Twitter to suppress The Post’s blockbuster October 2020 scoop about Hunter Biden’s laptop by warning it could be part of a Russian trick — despite having taken possession of the laptop months earlier from a Delaware repair shop.
Yoel Roth, Twitter’s now-former head of trust and safety, has since given sworn testimony that the feds had primed him to view any reporting on the laptop as a “Russian ‘hack and leak’ operation” meant to discredit 2020 Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
In a separate deposition, FBI San Francisco Special Agent Elvis Chan, the bureau’s main liaison with Twitter, admitted its warnings were overblown, saying: “Through our investigations, we did not see any similar competing intrusions to what had happened in 2016.”
In an interview with Fox News Tuesday night, Shellenberger said he found a “disturbing pattern” of “relentless pressure by external FBI agents on Twitter to basically adapt its content moderation, also to share information.”
In fact, the reporter revealed, there were so many former FBI employees working at Twitter in the runup to the 2020 election that they had their own private Slack channel, “Bu alumni,” complete with a crib sheet to onboard new members.
Other disclosures, by fellow journalists Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss, show that the FBI treated Twitter as a “subsidiary” and flagged numerous accounts for purportedly harmful “misinformation” — many of them low-follower users who trafficked in satire.
“Instead of chasing child sex predators or terrorists,” Taibbi tweeted Dec. 16, “the FBI has agents — lots of them — analyzing and mass-flagging social media posts. Not as part of any criminal investigation, but as a permanent, end-in-itself surveillance operation. People should not be okay with this.”
And there is this from Jonathan Turley:
It is not clear what is more chilling: the menacing role played by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Twitter’s censorship program or its mendacious response to the disclosure of that role. This week saw another FBI “nothing-to-see-here” statement to the release of files detailing how it actively sought to suppress the Hunter Biden story before the 2020 election, gave millions to Twitter, and targeted even satire or tiny posts that did not conform with its guidelines.
The releases document what some of us have long alleged: a system of censorship by surrogate or proxy. The FBI has largely shrugged and said that there is nothing concerning about over 80 agents working on the censoring of posters, including many American citizens.
In the latest statement, the FBI stated it did not command Twitter to take any specific action when flagging accounts to be censored:
“We are providing it so that they can take whatever action they deem appropriate under their terms of service to protect their platform and protect their customers, but we never direct or ask them to take action.”
The files shows a previously undisclosed back channel of contacts where the FBI nudged Twitter to censor posters and Twitter proceeded to do so. Many are like the Nov. 10th email saying “Hello Twitter contacts, FBI San Francisco is notifying you of the below accounts which may potentially constitute violations of Twitter’s Terms of Service for any action or inaction deemed appropriate within Twitter policy.”
Notably, when four such accounts were given such purely discretionary, not-threatening-in-the-slightest flags, Twitter suspended three of the four accounts were suspended, and called for a review the fourth account flagged by the FBI for “possible civic misinformation.”
It is all just friendly chit chat from the “Public Sector Engagement Squad” at FBI’s San Francisco office.
The files also reveal a message to the former Deputy General Counsel (and former FBI General Counsel) Jim Baker revealed that Twitter collected $3,415,323 from the FBI.
“Jim, FYI, in 2019 SCALE instituted a reimbursement program for our legal process response from the FBI. Prior to the start of the program, Twitter chose not to collect under this statutory right of reimbursement for the time spent processing requests from the FBI. I am happy to report we have collected $3,415,323 since October 2019! This money is used by LP for things like the TTR and other LE-related projects (LE training, tooling, etc.).”
The FBI spokesperson said,
“The correspondence between the FBI and Twitter show nothing more than examples of our traditional, longstanding and ongoing federal government and private sector engagements, which involve numerous companies over multiple sectors and industries. As evidenced in the correspondence, the FBI provides critical information to the private sector in an effort to allow them to protect themselves and their customers.”
“The men and women of the FBI work every day to protect the American public. It is unfortunate that conspiracy theorists and others are feeding the American public misinformation with the sole purpose of attempting to discredit the agency.”
What is striking about this statement is that the FBI is now adopting the language of pundits on the left that any objections to its role in censorship is a “conspiracy theory.” Rather than acknowledge the concerns and pledge to work with Congress to guarantee transparency, it is attacking free speech advocates who are raising the concern that Twitter had become an agent of the government in censorship. Notably, Twitter itself now believes that such an agency relationship existed.
The statement shows an agency that is still engaged in framing public opinion and echoing the narrative being advanced by the White House. There are some who would question whether “working every day to protect the American public” should include censoring the public to protect it against errant or misleading ideas. There was a time when that was not a “conspiracy theory.”