Twitter's 'secret blacklist of accounts and topics to stop trending'
‘Soviet-style bulls***’: Fury at Twitter’s ‘secret blacklist’ and ‘visibility filtering’ as new tranche of internal files reveal conservatives were marked ‘do not amplify’ and COVID lockdown skeptics ‘shadow banned’
- Journalists Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss have been handed a trove of documents from Twitter, detailing why the company censored story of Hunter Biden’s laptop
- Taibbi released the first tranche of the documents on Friday, and Weiss on Thursday followed up with a second series
- Weiss revealed that conservatives and lockdown skeptics were deliberately down-ranked by Twitter, to stop their accounts from gaining prominence
- Among those blacklisted were Fox News regular Dan Bongino and youth activist Charlie Kirk, plus Stanford CDC critic Dr Jay Bhattacharya
- Jack Dorsey and his head of legal, Vijaya Gadde, both denied that Twitter ever deliberately downgraded or ‘shadow banned’ any accounts
- The documents from Taibbi showed panic among senior Twitter staff in October 2020 when The New Post reported on the contents of Hunter’s computer
Twitter kept a ‘secret blacklist’ of topics and accounts to prevent them from trending, according to data obtained by journalist Bari Weiss – with conservative commentators deliberately downplayed in what one called ‘Soviet-style bulls***’, while another said he was treated ‘with more censorship than Hamas’.
Specialist teams were put to work, dealing with 200 cases a day.
Conservative commentators such as Dan Bongino and Charlie Kirk were deliberately put on a ‘search blacklist’ – in the case of Bongino – or tabbed ‘do not amplify’, in the case of Kirk.
‘They’re treating my Twitter account with more scrutiny and censorship than the prime minister of Iran, than Hamas, than people who do actual terroristic type damage,’ said Kirk.
‘Now we evidence to show that’s exactly why my Twitter account the last couple years has been down 95 percent in engagement.’
Bongino said it was ‘Soviet-style bulls***.’
Those who questioned the prevailing COVID orthodoxy of lockdowns and mask mandates, such as Stanford’s Dr Jay Bhattacharya, who argued that lockdowns harmed children, were also placed on a ‘search blacklist’.
In October 2020, journalist Dave Rubin asked then-CEO Jack Dorsey: ‘Do you shadowban based on political beliefs? Simple yes or no will do.’
Dorsey replied: ‘No.’
Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal, policy, and trust, also denied that Twitter operated such blacklists.
‘We do not shadow ban,’ she said in 2018, according to Weiss – speaking alongside Kayvon Beykpour, Twitter’s head of product.
They added: ‘And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.’
Weiss made the revelations on Thursday in the second tranche of what has been termed The Twitter Files.
She reported that Twitter used what was termed ‘visibility filtering’ to downplay accounts they objected to, and had teams of people working to reduce the traction gained by individuals or their tweets.
One senior Twitter insider called it ‘a very powerful tool’.
The teams working to minimize certain accounts or topics were backed up by a top-level ‘Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support’ team – where the CEO and top legal advisors would decide sensitive cases of censorship. Jack Dorsey and his successor as CEO, Parag Agrawal, were on the team.
Top officials such as Yoel Roth, the global head of trust and safety, wrote in internal messages that he wanted more creative ways of censoring and muffling specific accounts and content.
Elon Musk, who bought Twitter in October for $44 billion, was gleeful about the revelations regarding the company he now owns – retweeting Weiss’ thread, with a popcorn emoji.
‘As @bariweiss clearly describes, the rules were enforced against the right, but not against the left,’ he said, adding that the company was ‘working on a software update that will show your true account status, so you know clearly if you’ve been shadowbanned, the reason why and how to appeal.’
He added: ‘Truth brings reconciliation.’
Conservative commentators Dan Bongino (left) and Charlie Kirk (right) were censored by Twitter, according to Bari Weiss
Dr Jay Bhattacharya, who argued that COVID lockdowns harmed children, was also placed on a ‘search blacklist’ by Twitter, according to Weiss
Within Twitter, the practice was termed ‘visibility filtering’, Weiss reported.
‘Think about visibility filtering as being a way for us to suppress what people see to different levels. It’s a very powerful tool,’ one senior Twitter employee told her.
Twitter would block searches of individual users, make a specific tweet less easy to find, block posts from the ‘trending’ page, and remove them from hashtag searches.
Another source, a Twitter engineer, told Weiss: ‘We control visibility quite a bit. And we control the amplification of your content quite a bit. And normal people do not know how much we do.’
Weiss said that the matter was dealt with by Twitter’s Strategic Response Team – Global Escalation Team, known as SRT-GET – a group that handled 200 cases a day.
A higher-level team, known as SIP-PES, ‘Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support,’ dealt with more complex and high-profile cases.
Dorsey and his replacement as CEO, Parag Agrawal, sat on the group, as did Gadde and Yoel Roth, the global head of trust and safety.
Roth messaged colleagues on Slack to say that ‘spam enforcements’ had been used as a way of circumventing the safety team ‘under-enforcing their policies’.
The group would need to intervene if any action was taken to limit the popular account @LibsofTiktok – whose account was tabbed internally: ‘Do Not Take Action on User Without Consulting With SIP-PES.’
CEO Parag Agrawal (left) and head of legal policy Vijaya Gadde (right) were both fired by Musk as soon as he took control of the company. It now emerges they were involved in ‘shadow bans’ of accounts
Weiss said that account was suspended six times in 2022, and the author, Chaya Raichik, blocked from her account for at least a week each time.
Her account was suspended, they told Raichik, due to violations of Twitter’s ‘hateful conduct’ policy – but internally, Twitter admitted there was no violation.
In an October 2022 memo from SIP-PES obtained by Weiss, the committee concluded that the account ‘has not directly engaged in behavior violative of the Hateful Conduct policy.’
They justified the suspension by saying her posts encouraged online harassment of ‘hospitals and medical providers’ by insinuating ‘that gender-affirming healthcare is equivalent to child abuse or grooming.’
Weiss said that their response was in sharp contrast to that when Raichik was doxxed, with her home addressed published online. Raichik complained, but Twitter refused to take the tweet down, and it remains on the site to this day.
Raichik tweeted: ‘They suspended me multiple times knowing I never violated any policies. This is what happens when you talk about things that they don’t want you to talk about. So glad those days on Twitter are over. Thank you @elonmusk.’
Musk replied: ‘You’re welcome. Twitter won’t be perfect in the future, but it will be *much* better.’
Weiss also singled out Roth for criticism, saying he was active in censoring accounts.
She noted that he had written to an employee on the Health, Misinformation, Privacy, and Identity research team wanting to improve ‘non-removal policy interventions like disabling engagements and deamplification/visibility filtering.’
Roth wrote: ‘The hypothesis underlying much of what we’ve implemented is that if exposure to, e.g., misinformation directly causes harm, we should use remediations that reduce exposure, and limiting the spread/virality of content is a good way to do that.’
He said that Dorsey was supportive of the censorship.
‘We got Jack on board with implementing this for civic integrity in the near term, but we’re going to need to make a more robust case to get this into our repertoire of policy remediations – especially for other policy domains,’ Roth wrote.
Musk defended Dorsey, however.
‘Controversial decisions were often made without getting Jack’s approval and he was unaware of systemic bias. The inmates were running the asylum,’ he said on Thursday night.
‘Jack has a pure heart imo.’
Tucker Carlson, Fox News host, immediately seized on Weiss’ report, saying it ‘confirms what many suspected but none knew for certain – which is that Twitter routinely censored prominent critics of the Biden administration, with no factual justification whatsoever.’
He noted the example of the Stanford doctor who was vocal against COVID lockdowns and was blacklisted, saying it was ‘doubtless at the request of the authorities’.
Carlson continued: ‘They prevented his tweets from trending which meant most of his tweets couldn’t be seen.
‘According to Weiss, at one point they slapped him with a search ban. That made it impossible for users to find tweets by him, because they were inaccurate?
‘No, because they were accurate. That was the crime. That’s always the crime. They never punish you for lying, they only punish you for telling the truth.’
He added: ‘It was strategic. They weren’t censoring people because they were annoying, they were censoring people because they were providing factual information that might have stopped certain policies or election results from happening.
‘So, you know, this was sophisticated – and had an effect on American society, I would say.’
Kirk told Carlson on Thursday night that the report confirmed his long-held suspicions, but said he was angry.
He says he was averaging 115,000 retweets a day at their peak – questioning COVID lockdowns, for example.
‘I was called a conspiracy theorist, I was smeared,’ Kirk told Carlson, adding that he complained and met Dorsey personally. Dorsey assured him that shadow banning was not happening.
Kirk said the social media company was censoring him because ‘they saw what I had to say as a direct threat to the regime.’
He said: ‘They’re treating my twitter account with more scrutiny and censorship than the prime minister of Iran, than Hamas, than people who do actual terroristic type damage.
‘Now we evidence to show that’s exactly why my Twitter account the last couple years has been down 95 percent in engagement.
‘Were they told to do this by the federal government?’ he asked, describing how he watched the Twitter change from a social media platform into a ‘Democrat super PAC.’
He added: ‘Apparently asking questions about the lockdown policy was a threat. Were they told to do this by Anthony Fauci, by the federal government?
‘We may never know – but Twitter at its best was a place where heterodox ideas were able to spread. Twitter went out of its way to censor it and suffocate our account.’
He said: ‘I’ve been told forever, so weird that I can’t find you on Twitter, your a verified account, your name’s not usual, how come you don’t come up?
‘When I spoke about this on my show I was called a conspiracy theorist and a wacko.
‘My website has been banned by Google Ads; I was banned by YouTube for suggesting that cloth masks don’t work, which is now scientifically proven.
‘Now I find I am on a ‘not safe for work’ shadow ban list on Twitter, because I’ve committed the thought crime of being a conservative.’
He added: ‘Tell me again how we live in a free country.’
Raichik, the @LibsOfTikTok founder, told Carlson by phone that she ‘absolutely sensed I was being censored.’
‘I had a very large account. I never was able to trend, and now we find out I was on the trend blacklist.
‘There were sometimes days or weeks at a time where I felt like my tweets were getting much less engagement than usual, than they should.
‘Now it’s clear that there was suppression and shadow banning.’
Raichik added: ‘The craziest part of this whole thing is, that they admitted, that I’m not even violating the policies, and they still suspended me seven times. Seven times, three of which were for a week at a time.
‘So I was suspended for probably a month altogether – and for what?
‘Not even violating their policies – just because they don’t like their own views. They don’t want you to see it.’
The first tranche of documents, posted by Matt Taibbi last week, detail how Twitter in October 2020 decided to censor the New York Post’s reporting on the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop.
They feared the contents were obtained through hacking, but had no evidence to prove it, and it quickly emerged that the laptop had simply been left at a repair store.
Jack Dorsey, the then-CEO of Twitter, admitted that censoring the legitimate reporting was a significant error.
Twitter’s new owner and ‘Chief Twit’ Elon Musk on Wednesday claimed the ‘most important’ Twitter data was ‘deleted’ and ‘hidden’ from the Dorsey.
Musk, 51, has vowed that ‘everything we find will be released’ as his newly acquired company continues to release the Twitter Files.
On Wednesday, Dorsey, 46, replied to Musk’s tweet about delaying the second batch of the Twitter Files, calling for the new CEO to ‘release everything’ at once.
‘If the goal is transparency to build trust, why not just release everything without filter and let people judge for themselves? Including all discussions around current and future actions?’ Dorsey wrote.
‘Make everything public now.’
Musk replied that everything would be released, but even the ‘most important data was hidden (from [Dorsey] too) and some may have been deleted.’
Elon Musk, 51, has vowed that ‘everything we find will be released’ as Twitter continues to release the files surrounding Hunter Biden’s laptop scandal
Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, 46, called for transparency on Wednesday after Musk revealed the second back of the Twitter Files would be delayed
‘If the goal is transparency to build trust, why not just release everything without filter and let people judge for themselves?’ Dorsey wrote on Twitter
The delay came after the Tesla CEO fired James Baker – Twitter’s general counsel and former FBI general counsel – after discovering he vetted the first installment of the Files, which were sent to journalist Matt Taibbi, from Substack, and Common Sense Editor Bari Weiss.
Musk fired Baker ‘in light of concerns about Baker’s possible role in suppression of information important to the public dialogue.’
Taibbi revealed that Baker’s involvement in the first batch of files was ‘without knowledge of new management.’
‘The process for producing the ‘Twitter Files’ involved delivery to two journalists (Bari Weiss and me) via a lawyer close to new management. However, after the initial batch, things became complicated,’ Taibbi wrote on Twitter.
‘Over the weekend, while we both dealt with obstacles to new searches, it was @BariWeiss who discovered that the person in charge of releasing the files was someone named Jim. When she called to ask ‘Jim’s’ last name, the answer came back: ‘Jim Baker.’
Weiss said her ‘jaw hit the floor’ when she found out.
The first batch of files the two journalists received was titled the Spectra Baker Emails.
The delay came after Twitter fired James Baker – the company’s general counsel – after discovering he vetted the first installment of the Twitter Files
Musk fired Baker ‘in light of concerns about Baker’s possible role in suppression of information important to the public dialogue.’ Matt Taibbi, one of the journalists that received the first batch of files, revealed that Baker’s involvement in the first batch of files was ‘without knowledge of new management’
The first batch of internal documents showed Baker and other executives discussing Twitter’s October 2020 ban on a news report about Hunter’s foreign business deals, based on emails from his abandoned laptop.
On Friday, Taibbi published the batch of internal documents, calling them the ‘Twitter Files,’ which included an exchange between Baker and former VP of Global Comms Brandon Borrman.
Borrman asks, regarding banning an article about Hunter Biden under Twitter’s ‘hacked materials’ policy: ‘Can we truthfully claim that this is part of the policy?’
Baker responded, appearing to argue in favor of maintaining the ban, because ‘caution is warranted.’
At the time, the files were determined to have broken Twitter’s hacked materials policy, but Dorsey has since said the call was a mistake.
Critics accused Twitter of swaying the presidential election toward Biden by covering up the data.
THE TWITTER FILES PART TWO: IN FULL
Baker, Musk, and the trial of the Democrat lawyer accused of lying to the FBI
James Baker has long been in the crosshairs of Elon Musk, who on October 27 became his boss.
Baker played a key role in a series of events that led to Democrat lawyer Michael Sussmann going on trial in May, accused of lying to the FBI.
He was not accused of giving the FBI false information, but rather lying about who he worked for.
The saga began when Sussmann was given information from a group of data scientists who analyzed odd internet data they thought might suggest clandestine communications between a server for the Trump Organization and a server for Alfa Bank, a Kremlin-linked Russian financial institution.
Sussmann then texted Baker, at the time the bureau’s general counsel, to say he had information the FBI should be aware of.
‘I’m coming on my own — not on behalf of a client or company — want to help the bureau,’ Sussmann wrote in his text to Baker.
Baker testified that he was certain Sussmann was acting as an individual, and would likely not have met him were he working for the Clinton campaign.
Sussmann, a cybersecurity specialist, had worked for the Democratic Party in the context of Russia’s hacking of its servers, and Russia publishing emails from the servers.
Sussmann was also connected to the Democrats via one of his partners at the law firm Perkins Coie, Marc Elias, who was representing the Clinton campaign and hired Fusion GPS.
Yet multiple people – including Elias – testified that Sussmann was indeed acting on his own accord, and argued that actually going to the FBI was not in the interests of the Clinton campaign, which would have preferred a New York Times story drawing attention to the assertions.
The FBI later decided the allegations of links between the Trump campaign and the Russian bank were unfounded.
Musk tweeted during the trial that he thought Sussmann had ‘created an elaborate hoax’ about Russia, in a bid to help Clinton.
On May 16, staunchly pro-Trump Congressman Jim Jordan tweeted: ‘Christopher Steele created the dossier.
‘Glenn Simpson sold it to the press.
‘Michael Sussman took it to the FBI.
‘And Democrats and the media lied to you about it all.’
Musk then replied in agreement.
‘All true,’ he tweeted on May 20.
‘Bet most people still don’t know that a Clinton campaign lawyer, using campaign funds, created an elaborate hoax about Trump and Russia.
‘Makes you wonder what else is fake.’
On May 31, the jury concluded that Sussmann had not lied to the FBI and cleared him.
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