Wednesday 4 January 2023

The Twitter Files: Twitter And The FBI ‘Belly Button’

 Journalist Matt Taibbi released the twelfth installment of “The Twitter Files” Tuesday afternoon that documented the relationship between government agencies and the social media platform.

The latest batch of files came roughly an hour after Taibbi released the eleventh installment of “The Twitter Files” which detailed what led up to the Intelligence Community cozying up with Twitter.

“By 2020, Twitter was struggling with the problem of public and private agencies bypassing them and going straight to the media with lists of suspect accounts,” Taibbi wrote. “In February, 2020, as COVID broke out, the Global Engagement Center — a fledgling analytic/intelligence arms of the State Department — went to the media with a report called, ‘Russian Disinformation Apparatus Taking Advantage of Coronavirus Concerns.’”

“The GEC flagged accounts as ‘Russian personas and proxies’ based on criteria like, ‘Describing the Coronavirus as an engineered bioweapon,’ blaming ‘research conducted at the Wuhan institute,’ and ‘attributing the appearance of the virus to the CIA,’” Taibbi wrote. “State also flagged accounts that retweeted news that Twitter banned the popular U.S. ZeroHedge, claiming the episode ‘led to another flurry of disinformation narratives.’ [Zero Hedge] had done reports speculating that the virus had lab origin.”

Taibbi showed examples of how the GEC’s report led to more explosive headlines that helped shape the narrative around the origins of the pandemic during its early days.

Trust and Safety Chief Yoel Roth even complained that media trying to find ways to tie pandemic mis/disinformation back to Russia was “revelatory of their motivations.”

“The GEC report appeared based on DHS data circulated earlier that week, and included accounts that followed ‘two or more’ Chinese diplomatic accounts,” Taibbi continued. “They reportedly ended up with a list ‘nearly 250,000’ names long, and included Canadian officials and a CNN account.”

“Roth saw GEC’s move as an attempt by the GEC to use intel from other agencies to ‘insert themselves’ into the content moderation club that included Twitter, Facebook, the FBI, DHS, and others,” Taibbi continued.

Twitter disagreed with the Trump administration that communist China was sowing disinformation about the pandemic on the platform, Taibbi said.

“When the FBI informed Twitter the GEC wanted to be included in the regular ‘industry call’ between companies like Twitter and Facebook and the DHS and FBI, Twitter leaders balked at first,” Taibbi wrote. “Facebook, Google, and Twitter executives were united in opposition to GEC’s inclusion, with ostensible reasons including, ‘The GEC’s mandate for offensive IO to promote American interests.’”

“A deeper reason was a perception that unlike the DHS and FBI, which were ‘apolitical,’ as Roth put it, the GEC was ‘political,’ which in Twitter-ese appeared to be partisan code,” Taibbi continued. “‘I think they thought the FBI was less Trumpy,’ is how one former DOD official put it.”

“After spending years rolling over for Democratic Party requests for ‘action’ on ‘Russia-linked’ accounts, Twitter was suddenly playing tough. Why? Because, as Roth put it, it would pose ‘major risks’ to bring the GEC in, ‘especially as the election heats up,’” Taibbi said. “When senior lawyer Stacia Cardille tried to argue against the GEC’s inclusion to the FBI, the words resonated ‘with Elvis, not Laura,’ i.e. with agent Elvis Chan, not Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF) unit chief Laura Dehmlow.”

“Eventually the FBI argued, first to Facebook, for a compromise solution: other USG agencies could participate in the ‘industry’ calls, but the FBI and DHS would act as sole ‘conduits,’” Taibbi continued. “Roth reached out to Chan with concerns about letting the ‘press-happy’ GEC in, expressing hope they could keep the ‘circle of trust small.’”

Chan suggested that the industry could “rely on the FBI to be the belly button of the USG,” meaning it would get the information from Twitter and distribute it to other agencies as it saw fit.

Numerous agencies flooded Twitter with requests to take action on accounts.

“They also received an astonishing variety of requests from officials asking for individuals they didn’t like to be banned,” Taibbi wrote. “Here, the office for Democrat and House Intel Committee chief Adam Schiff asks Twitter to ban journalist Paul Sperry.”

“Even Twitter declined to honor Schiff’s request at the time,” Taibbi continued. “Sperry was later suspended, however.”

Taibbi continued by showing how the volume of requests from government agencies overwhelmed officials at Twitter, who were sometimes pestered by agents to take action on accounts.

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