Former Twitter executives who were ousted by Elon Musk upon his purchase of the company accounted for their decisions to censor the bombshell Hunter Biden laptop story before members of the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday morning.
Officials leading the social media platform created blacklists, prevented unfavorable tweets from trending, and restricted the visibility of entire accounts and trending topics without informing users. Republican lawmakers pressed former Chief Legal Officer Vijaya Gadde, former Deputy General Counsel James Baker, and former Global Head of Trust and Safety Yoel Roth about their decisions to censor the Hunter Biden laptop story published by The New York Post shortly before the 2020 election.
Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY) cited survey data indicating that many Americans who cast their ballots for President Joe Biden were unaware of the report and would have chosen another candidate if they had been informed of the story. He also lauded Musk, who acquired Twitter at the end of last year and presently serves as the company’s chief executive, for vowing to prioritize freedom of expression on the platform.
Oversight Committee Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (D-MD), on the other hand, contended that revelations of collusion between Twitter and various intelligence agencies chronicled by the Twitter Files were “authentically trivial” and “silly.” He said the hearing was “all based on the obsessive victimology of right-wing politics.”
Internal documents from Twitter had revealed that Baker, who previously worked as general counsel for the FBI, had insisted to Roth that the materials from Hunter Biden’s unearthed laptop were either faked or hacked, even though The New York Post had included a receipt from the repair shop signed by the commander-in-chief’s son. Baker testified that he was innocent of any wrongdoing during his time at the company.
“I was not aware of and certainly did not engage in any conspiracy or other effort to do anything unethical, improper, or unlawful while I was at Twitter. Period,” he told lawmakers in his opening statement. “I did not act unlawfully or otherwise inappropriately in any manner with respect to Hunter Biden’s laptop computer. Indeed, documents that Twitter has disclosed publicly reflect that I urged caution with respect to the matter and noted that we needed more information to fully assess what was going on and to decide what to do.”
Gadde, who had pushed for the removal of former President Donald Trump from the platform and repeatedly denied that Twitter covertly limited the reach of some conservative accounts, defended the work of monitoring the “health of the public conversation” during her opening statement but acknowledged that the Hunter Biden laptop story was not properly handled.
“In hindsight, Twitter should have reinstated The New York Post’s account immediately given the circumstances,” she commented. “There is no easy way to run a global communications platform that satisfies business and revenue goals, individual customer expectations, local laws, and cultural norms.”
Roth, unlike other executives, had spurned attempts by government agencies to acquire data from Twitter by noting the company’s policies against enabling surveillance activity. Evidence from the Twitter Files suggests that Roth, leading national security reporters, and fellow social media executives were nudged by intelligence agents to censor stories about a document dump related to foreign influence upon the Biden family. Roth nevertheless testified that the cooperation between social media firms and law enforcement was not political in nature.
“In the recent reporting known as the Twitter Files, there was an attempt to portray interactions between Twitter and other social media platforms and the FBI as politically driven interference. My experience of these interactions was different,” he said. “Across the FBI, DHS, and other agencies, the professionals responsible for combating malign foreign interference in elections did so with integrity, and the utmost care and respect for the laws of this country.”
He admitted that Twitter “made a mistake” with respect to the Hunter Biden laptop story as they sought to apply rules against hacked materials.
“I’ll be the first to admit that we didn’t always get it right,” he continued. “Individual content moderation decisions will always be contentious, and reasonable minds can differ about whether a specific choice was right or wrong.”