The Twitter Files: How Twitter Let the Intelligence Community In

Journalist Matt Taibbi released the eleventh installment of “The Twitter Files” Tuesday afternoon that explored the social media platform’s embrace of the U.S. Intelligence Community in recent years.

“In August 2017, when Facebook decided to suspend 300 accounts with ‘suspected Russian origin,’ Twitter wasn’t worried,” Taibbi began. “Its leaders were sure they didn’t have a Russia problem.”

Taibbi revealed internal company communications showing that Twitter officials did “not see a big correlation” or “larger patterns” that they were concerned about.

“Twitter was so sure they had no Russia problem, execs agreed the best PR strategy was to say nothing on record, and quietly hurl reporters at Facebook,” Taibbi continued.

Public Policy VP Colin Crowell wrote in an email back in 2017: “Twitter is not the focus of inquiry into Russian election meddling right now – the spotlight is on FB because FB has better targeting ability than we have for campaign-related advertising; and, because the Trump campaign spent massively on FB during the election compared to what they spent w/us.”

5.“Twitter is not the focus of inquiry into Russian election meddling right now – the spotlight is on FB,” wrote Public Policy VP Colin Crowell:

— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) January 3, 2023

Taibbi noted that Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), then-Ranking Member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was “furious” over Twitter’s report to the U.S. Senate that showed that the company only suspended “22 possible Russian accounts, and 179 others with ‘possible links’ to those accounts, amid a larger set of roughly 2700 suspects manually examined.”

7.Receiving these meager results, a furious Senator Mark Warner of Virginia – ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee – held an immediate press conference to denounce Twitter’s report as “frankly inadequate on every level.”

— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) January 3, 2023

Twitter officials privately mocked Warner after he later sent out a fundraising email asking for money.

“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, and generate interest for the Nov 1st hearing that is planned,” Crowell said in an email to then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Crowell then noted that Democrats were “taking cues from Hillary Clinton,” who was in the process of blaming everything other than herself for her loss in the 2016 presidential election.

Taibbi noted that Clinton said that week: “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.”

10.“TAKING THEIR CUES FROM HILLARY CLINTON” Crowell added Dems were taking cues from Hillary Clinton, who that week said: “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.”

— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) January 3, 2023

“In growing anxiety over its PR problems, Twitter formed a ‘Russia Task Force’ to proactively self-investigate,” Taibbi continued, citing internal company documents. “The ‘Russia Task Force’ started mainly with data shared from counterparts at Facebook, centered around accounts supposedly tied to Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA).”

Twitter conducted a thorough investigation and found “no evidence of a coordinated approach” among many of the accounts that they flagged and manually reviewed.

“All of the accounts found seem to be lone-wolf type activity,” Twitter said.

13. OCT 13 2017: “No evidence of a coordinated approach, all of the accounts found seem to be lone-wolf type activity (different timing, spend, targeting, <$10k in ad spend).”

— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) January 3, 2023

At the end of the investigation, Twitter wrote: “Finished with investigation… 2500 full manual account reviews, we think this is exhaustive… 32 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.”

Taibbi noted that the data Twitter combed through was later used to write misleading news reports with salacious headlines.

17.Twitter’s search finding “only 2” significant accounts, “one of which is Russia Today,” was based on the same data that later inspired panic headlines like “Russian Influence Reached 126 Million Through Facebook Alone”:

— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) January 3, 2023

Taibbi noted that pressure from Democrats, who were sore over Donald Trump’s election victory, forced the company to change its tune on its “Russia problem” so the company could avoid “costly legislation” and more bad press.

22.“Hi guys.. Just passing along for awareness the writeup here from the WashPost today on potential legislation (or new FEC regulations) that may affect our political advertising,” wrote Crowell.

— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) January 3, 2023

Twitter continued to fret over Warner feeling “like tech industry was in denial for months.”

Twitter officials then said that U.S. lawmakers, presumably Democrats, leaked the findings of the report that the company handed over to Democrats.

“Even as Twitter prepared to change its ads policy and remove RT and Sputnik to placate Washington, congress turned the heat up more, apparently leaking the larger, base list of 2700 accounts,” Taibbi wrote.

27.Reporters from all over started to call Twitter about Russia links. Buzzfeed, working with the University of Sheffield, claimed to find a “new network” on Twitter that had “close connections to… Russian-linked bot accounts.”

— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) January 3, 2023

“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,” Taibbi wrote.

31.Twitter soon settled on its future posture.

In public, it removed content “at our sole discretion.”

Privately, they would “off-board” anything “identified by the U.S.. intelligence community as a state-sponsored entity conducting cyber-operations.”

— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) January 3, 2023

32.Twitter let the “USIC” into its moderation process. It would not leave.

Wrote Crowell, in an email to the company’s leaders:

“We will not be reverting to the status quo.”

— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) January 3, 2023

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