The latest edition of the Twitter files details how the company began working with the FBI following pressure from Hillary Clinton and the Democrats which turned into an FBI witch hunt.
Journalist Matt Taibbi broke down how Twitter was under enormous pressure from Democrats to crack down on Russian misinformation.
Emails from Twitter executives showed how the company initially tried to pass the buck to Facebook, arguing that Twitter only has a few accounts with ‘suspected Russian origin.’
But things took a drastic change when Hillary Clinton demanded Twitter take the issue seriously. Former Twitter Public Policy Vice President Colin Crowell later emailed then-CEO Jack Dorsey about mounting pressure from the left.
“Democrats also taking cues from Hillary Clinton, who in her ‘What Happened’ book tour is pointedly talking about [the] role of Russian propaganda, and dirty tricks that were pushed through social media had in her demise,” Crowell wrote.
Just days after the email, Twitter formed its Russian Task Force, which only found three accounts directly connected with Russia – two of those were tied to Russia Today.
Twitter then began playing ball with Democrats and their Russian misinformation narrative when Facebook announced it would suspend 300 accounts tied to Russia.
According to an internal message from Twitter staff, they did not appear too concerned with the problem as there were ‘no larger patterns’ of Russian misinformation spreading on its platform.
“FB may take action on hundreds of accounts, and we may take action on ~25,” one message read.
According to other internal memos, the company’s communications team was under pressure to steer the public conversation toward Facebook’s Russia problem.
“Twitter is not the focus of inquiry into Russian election meddling right now – the spotlight is on FB,” Crowell wrote to the company’s leadership.
As pressure mounted from Democrats alleging Russian interference played a hand in Clinton’s defeat against Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential elections, Twitter submitted a report to the US Senate that it had suspended 22 possible Russian accounts.
The social media company said there were roughly 179 other accounts with ‘possible links’ to the banned accounts, with 2,700 suspected accounts under examination.
But Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, blasted Twitter’s report as ‘frankly inadequate on every level.’
Warner’s criticism struck a nerve with Crowell, who forwarded a campaign fundraiser email for Warner’s re-election, writing ‘#irony.’
As there was very little evidence of Russian accounts on Twitter, Twitter executives appeared unfazed by Warner’s calls as they accused the senator of politicizing the issue.
“Warner has political incentive to keep this issue at top of the news, maintain pressure on us and rest of industry to keep producing material for them,” Crowell wrote in an email to Dorsey on September 29, 2017.
But it wasn’t until Clinton herself pushed for more scrutiny on Twitter, things began to change.
“It’s time for Twitter to stop dragging its heels and live up to the fact that its platform is being used as a tool for cyber-warfare,” Clinton had said during her book tour.
Twitter responded, saying it would investigate 8,000 accounts with possible connections to Russia, which again proved to be a dud.
“First round of RU investigation… 15 high risk accounts, 3 of which have connections with Russia, although 2 are [Russia Today]” the Task Force wrote on October 18, 2017.
Just under a week following alterations to their systems to find Russian accounts, the Twitter team concluded a lack of coordinated Russian misinformation efforts on the platform.
Less than a week later, following alterations to their systems to find suspected accounts, the team concluded that there was a lack of coordinated Russian misinformation efforts on Twitter.
“Finished with investigation… 2,500 full manual account reviews, we think this is exhaustive,” the team wrote. “Thirty-two suspicious accounts and only 17 of those are connected with Russia, only 2 of those have significant spend, one of which is Russia Today…remaining <$10k in spend.”
Despite a lack of evidence, the media began firing off reports that Twitter had a Russian misinformation problem.
The company highlighted frantic stories from the Washington Post, Politico, and Buzzfeed journalists.
The media pressure soon caused Twitter to further move with the narrative that Russian misinformation was rampant, eventually pledging to work with the Intelligence Committee ‘on their desire to legislate.’
Despite Twitter’s willingness to work with the government, a leak from Congress about the 2,700 suspected accounts sparked further outrage from the public.
Twitter was forced to offer an apology over the accounts, despite earlier dismissing all but three of them in their internal review.
Taibbi noted how Twitter was trapped in a vicious cycle fuelled by Democrats and the media, which ultimately led them into an FBI witch hunt.
“This cycle – threatened legislation, wedded to scare headlines pushed by congressional/intel sources, followed by Twitter caving to moderation asks – would later be formalized in partnerships with federal law enforcement.”
According to a previous instalment of the Twitter Files, the FBI appeared to have inundated the social media network with so many requests to tackle obscure accounts that staffers had to triage the bureau’s emails.