And, legally, it can’t be both.
Elon Musk’s latest info-drop of internal communications from the “Twitter Files,” delivered Friday by independent journalist Matt Taibbi, is perhaps the most damning yet, revealing that the FBI engaged in regular, ongoing contact with Twitter and had them censor accounts, in a direct attack on the First Amendment. J. D. Rucker at LIBERTY DAILY has posted the whole thing, which he says shows that the FBI and Twitter were “practically family.”
Taibbi himself calls this a “unique, one-big-happy-family vibe between Twitter and the FBI,” saying that “Twitter’s contact with the FBI was constant and pervasive, as if it were a subsidiary.” He concludes what we already have, citing this as 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 NGO [non-government organizations]. The lines have become so blurred as to be meaningless.”
Former head of Twitter Trust and Safety Yoel Roth was in the thick of this effort. Between January 2020 and November 2022, more than 150 emails were exchanged between him and the FBI. Some were just chatty and mundane, but others, as Taibbi describes, were requests for information on Twitter users related to active investigations. And “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.”
That’s right, they weren’t just going after high-profile accounts. Your Aunt Sadie in Des Moines who re-tweeted some pointedly hilarious meme about obvious ballot-stuffers wearing gloves in the heat of summer in Atlanta was being monitored, too. (Too bad they weren’t watching those drop-boxes, ha.) They’re watching EVERYBODY –- this is really no different from the level of control exercised by China.
And, yes, the FBI was calling on Twitter to ban accounts that were obviously satirical. Elvis Chan, senior FBI agent at the San Francisco field office, even put together a helpful list of satirical sites for Twitter, to get those sites banned. He included one of my favorites, and I’ll bet yours, too: the BABYLON BEE.
My writing/creative team have worked in comedy and parody for years and are aghast to see satire being attacked by our own government. This is the hill they will die on. The FBI’s attempt to control humor speaks to its power to cut to the heart of an issue. The power of mockery is precisely why our communication gatekeepers don’t like it and have been trying to shut it down. Plus, as I found out firsthand, they have no sense of humor and don’t even recognize an obvious joke!
In the wake of the 2016 election, the FBI’s task force for social media, known as FITF, or Foreign Influence Task Force, “swelled to 80 agents and corresponded with Twitter to identify alleged foreign influence and election tampering of all kinds,” Taibbi writes. Here they are...
“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,” Taibbi says. He’s probably including the Election Integrity Project, a partisan consortium of four different groups that worked with both the FBI and Twitter to help get messages flagged ahead of Election Day.
One Twitter email from March 2021 has to do with DHS bulletins being circulated among the executives at Twitter “stressing the need for greater collaboration between law enforcement and ‘private sector partners.’
Taibbi's latest installment shows, for the first time, that the FBI and DHS were regularly sending large amounts of social media content to Twitter, PRE-FLAGGED FOR MODERATION. That’s right, the FBI were going through masses of messages and telling Twitter how it was to be handled. This is not just using the Constitution for toilet paper --- it’s spitting on it, stomping on it, setting it on fire and burying the ashes.
One question Taibbi has is whether the FBI did all this monitoring themselves or farmed it out. He has found that some requests even came from state governments. Given what we know, it seems likely that intel people were using “private sector partners” to help with the monitoring and flagging.
“The ubiquity of the 2016 Russian interference story as a stated pretext for building out the censorship machine can’t be understated,” Taibbi says. “It’s analogous to how 9/11 inspired the expansion of the security state.” I would add that January 6 has since been used the same way, to focus the FBI almost exclusively on what they like to call “domestic terrorism.”
Charlie Hurt of the WASHINGTON TIMES made a good point Friday evening on Tucker Carlson’s show: “If we woke up today and there was this level of collusion between FOX NEWS and the federal government, in the middle of an election, to determine what we would or would not report, there would rightly be an outcry like we’ve never seen before. And yet it happens here. And an alarming number of the supposedly mainstream media –- they’re just like, ‘whatever,’” even though this is really no different from what the secret police do in totalitarian countries.
Hurt also pointed out that the same ‘journalists’ who are “squealing like stuck pigs" over being suspended (for a week!) at Twitter for doxxing Elon Musk and putting him and his family in danger never said a word when Twitter silenced doctors and scientists at the height of a pandemic. “These people are not protecting the First Amendment for anyone but themselves, and for the most powerful government on the planet.” he said.
Tammy Bruce, subbing for Sean Hannity Friday night, spoke with Kentucky Rep. James Comer, soon-to-be chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who insisted this issue would be a top priority. It had better be. “My concern was that this was a rogue FBI employee or two,” he said, “...we knew the FBI was the one communicating with the three Twitter employees [Roth, Gadde, Baker]...that this was ‘Russian disinformation’ pertaining to the Hunter Biden laptop...but what we found today is that the FBI had its own ‘ministry of propaganda’ --- 80 FBI agents [at a cost to taxpayers of $12 million] dedicated to nothing but censoring free speech on the internet.”
And what we’re hearing about is just Twitter. What about Google, Facebook, mainstream media? “Anyone that cares about free speech should be outraged, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat,” Comer said. “This has to stop.” He’s all for involving numerous committees, and for dismantling the FBI and starting over.
The FBI has released a statement saying, “The FBI regularly engages with private sector entities...[which] independently make decisions about what, if any, action they take on their platforms and for the customers after the FBI has notified them.”
Law professor Jonathan Turley found this statement “disturbing” because it shows “absolutely no self-awareness of what has already been disclosed.” It shows “utter contempt for the American people.” The Twitter Files reveal much more than what they admit to in their statement, indicating “censorship by surrogate, by proxy,” which is unconstitutional. “There’s very little runway left for the FBI to continue to [say] that there isn’t a serious problem here.”
First Amendment protections not only apply to the government, but to agents of the government, he said.
Turley didn’t think most people were talking about dismantling the entire FBI, just “these troublesome components.” (Editorial aside: no, a lot of people ARE talking about starting over with the whole FBI, and it’s sounding more and more like what needs to happen.) It will take some time for the case to be made, he said. He also pointed out, correctly, that this is also an indictment of Congress, because they’ve “shown a steadfast refusal to dig into the censorship allegations...in fact, Democratic members have pushed social media companies to expand censorship,” and now we have blacklisting and shadow-banning, which the media are now finding themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to embrace.
“I can’t tell you how long overdue this is,” he said. “In some ways, Musk has forced people to choose sides.”