(Originally aired Jan. 29, 2023)
Nine months after Elon Musk’s purchase, Twitter has been transformed from a major censor of off-narrative information. And Musk released an incriminating stream of internal documents, revealing what some say is shocking government censorship. Matt Taibbi, a journalist who wrote about the Twitter Files, testified to Congress about them, and we learned that at the same time, the IRS came knocking on his door in a visit that many viewed as intimidation.
The following is a transcript of a report from "Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson." Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
Matt Taibbi: What we found in the files was a sweeping effort to reverse that promise and use machine learning and other tools to turn the internet into an instrument of censorship and social control. Unfortunately, our own government appears to be playing a lead role.
After journalist Matt Taibbi testified to Congress in March, we learned that at the same time, the IRS came knocking on the door of his New Jersey home in a visit that many viewed as intimidation. Taibbi was testifying about government collusion with Twitter ahead of the 2020 elections and beyond.
Taibbi: We saw the first hints in communications between Twitter executives before the 2020 election, when we read things like, "Flagged by DHS," or, "Please see attached report from FBI for potential misinformation." This would be attached to an Excel spreadsheet with a long list of names, whose accounts were often suspended shortly after.
On October 5, 2020, President Trump had just recovered from Covid. Before leaving the hospital, he tweeted, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”
That triggered behind-the-scenes intrigue at Twitter.
A top Twitter lawyer named James Baker weighed in. Baker happened to have been the FBI’s lead attorney, once criminally investigated for alleged leaks against Trump.
Now at Twitter, Baker suggested that Trump’s urgings, “Don’t be afraid of Covid,” violated Twitter’s policy against misinformation. Twitter’s then-head of Trust and Safety told Baker that optimism didn’t qualify as misinformation.
But internal documents show Twitter often working at the government’s insistence to punish those who were off the Covid narratives, even if it meant rejecting truthful information.
August 11, 2022: A tweet wrongly implied that Covid was killing a lot of children. Twitter didn’t touch that disinformation. But when another user replied that Covid wasn’t even close to a major killer of kids — and cited the government’s own data from CDC — Twitter labelled that Tweet “Misleading.”
Other documents show that Twitter, pre-Elon Musk, aided government censorship campaigns. The social media company often accommodated U.S. government demands to push tweets that fit government narratives, and suppress dissenting tweets, even if true.
March 15, 2021: Harvard Medical School epidemiologist and professor Dr. Martin Kulldorff tweeted his expert opinion, shared by many scientists, that “those with prior infection” and “children” did not need the Covid-19 vaccine.
Internally, Twitter ruled that to be “sharing false information,” slapped a “Misleading” label on it, shut off people’s ability to reply to or “like” it, and suppressed its visibility.
June 19, 2022: Twitter permanently suspended another medical expert, Dr. Andrew Bostom, after deeming his tweets to be misinformation. That included one that simply referred to a peer-reviewed study finding Covid vaccines temporarily reduce “semen concentration” and sperm count in men.
The Twitter Files also show federal agencies devoting extensive time and personnel, on the taxpayer dime, to manage the public message and silence dissenters.
A May 11, 2020 email references a “monthly [US Government] USG/industry call.”
The FBI’s Elvis Chan coordinated regular sit-downs between numerous government agencies and Twitter — here, emails refer to meetings July 16, July 30, and August 14, 2020.
But perhaps the most important takeaway is that the revelations found in the Twitter Files are just a sampling of broader censorship trends.
Documents revealed through a lawsuit against President Biden show that managing information on Covid vaccines was a near-obsession in the Biden White House.
The lawsuit was filed by Missouri and Louisiana. Emails show that White House Digital Director Robert Flaherty and his team lobbied to shut down or censor what they called “misinformation” — which often turned out to be true information — on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, all while getting paid with your tax dollars.
For example, in January of 2021, baseball legend Hank Aaron died less than three weeks after getting the Covid vaccine. Though many claimed his death was unrelated to the shot, vaccine safety advocate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. — who's now running for president — said that Aaron’s death was “part of a wave of suspicious deaths among elderly” shortly after vaccination.
The next day, the White House team asked Twitter to censor Kennedy.
March 22, 2021, the White House’s Flaherty pointedly pressured Facebook to step up its game on shaping vaccine information and influencing users, such as “promoting content from their friends who have been vaccinated.”
“We have been focused on reducing the virality of content discouraging vaccines that does not contain actionable misinformation,” Facebook assured the White House, noting, “This is often-true content.”
On April 22, 2021, the White House was grappling with reports of dangerous blood clots after Covid shots, and the CDC and FDA had put a pause on Johnson & Johnson’s version. That day, Flaherty wrote to Facebook that “misinformation around the vaccine” is “a concern shared at the highest (and I mean highest) level of the [White House] WH”
And on May 12, 2021, the day CDC made the controversial recommendation for children to get the Covid vaccine, Flaherty again demanded that Facebook step up operations on “removing bad information” on vaccines.
Sharyl (on-camera): Some of the big questions raised by all of this: if the government is engaging in unconstitutional acts of censorship, who has the power to stop it? And how did the government’s actions impact everything, from our elections to the way Covid was mismanaged? We’ll keep on it.
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