Thoughts on the release of ‘Twitter Files Part 4’


Author Michael Shellenberger on Saturday night released the fourth installment of the “Twitter Files,” an initiative backed by Twitter CEO Elon Musk to shed light on “free speech suppression.”

This latest portion of uncovered information regarding Twitter’s content moderation pre-Musk focused on employees’ reactions to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, leading up to the ban of former President Trump instituted on Jan. 8, 2021.

Shellenberger shared screenshots of a conversation on Jan. 7 between former Twitter Head of Trust & Safety Yoel Roth and an anonymous coworker where he asked to blacklist the terms “stopthesteal” and “kraken,” which propped up the conspiracy that Trump won the 2020 election.

“I’m too worried about the risk of deamplifying counterspeech with stopthesteal,” replied the coworker, to which Roth responded “ack.”

A later conversation from Jan. 7 showed that pressure from Twitter employees factored into former CEO Jack Dorsey’s decision to distribute permanent bans after repeated violations of the community guidelines.

Dorsey sent out a company wide email that day claiming that the social media outlet would remain consistent with its policies, to which some employees responded negatively.

Hours later, Roth messaged colleagues saying that Dorsey had approved a new “repeat offender” approach to Twitter’s “strikes” system, where a person who accrued five strikes would be permanently suspended.

The five-strike permanent suspension occurred the following day with Trump’s personal account.

Shellenberger’s thread also revealed instances where employees took actions against tweets or users without a specific Twitter policy to back the choice.

“Twitter employees use the term ‘one off’ frequently in their Slack discussions,” wrote Shellenberger, providing screenshots of examples. “Its frequent use reveals significant employee discretion over when and whether to apply warning labels on tweets and ‘strikes’ on users.”

The first installment of the “Twitter Files on free speech suppression” launched just over a month after Musk acquired the social media company. The threads included are meant to show that Musk is delivering on his promise to reshape Twitter into a “free speech” platform by sharing the trove of internal documents with former NYT columnist Bari Weiss and independent journalist Matt Taibbi. Since then, Shellenberger has seemingly joined their effort by releasing the fourth installment.

The third installment of the “Twitter files” gave us some of what we were looking for in terms of government involvement in censoring free speech, though many questions remain. Tonight, close on the heels of the last data dump, Shellenberger unleashed the fourth chapter in the story. This edition also focused on the decision-making process that led to the President of the United States being banned. At least in the early revelations, Schellenberger winds up offering more cover for Dorsey and focusing the blame on the covert actions of Roth. There are also indications that Twitter was paying far more attention to the “big names” in the progressive movement than their own rules. One of these was found in one of the first tweets from Shellenberger, where input from Michelle Obama and high-profile liberals are cited as reasons to kick the Bad Orange Man off the platform.

In this series of documents, we learn that Dorsey was actually on vacation in French Polynesia when the January 6th riot took place. He was checking in by phone to some meetings, but Yoel Roth was actually in charge of most of the action. (The head of “Trust and Security.”) Dorsey was actually urging caution before banning world leaders, but this thread reminds us of the overwhelming dominance of registered Democrats and liberals at Twitter and how they may have been making decisions that ran contrary to Dorsey’s impulses.

Dorsey seemed to still be uneasy about banning Trump, even as the riot unfolded. But then, on the following day, Jack appeared to approve it, at least in general, if not specific to Donald Trump. But he still didn’t seem to be in favor of a permanent ban. He wanted the company to remain “consistent” in its ban policies and the right of people (including Trump) to return to Twitter after a temporary suspension. Internally, however, Yoel Roth was questioning Dorsey’s interpretations.

There were “junior persons” expressing concern over the First Amendment implications of banning a world leader. But those concerns seem to have been ignored.

I’ve been asking for some time now how Dorsey hasn’t been taken to task for the censorship taking place, including the banning of Donald Trump. But these latest revelations from Shellenberger only seem to offer more cover for Dorsey. Roth seems to have been the villain here and Dorsey may have been largely out of the loop, even when he testified before Congress about shadowbanning. This story is still developing and we’ll have more about it tomorrow, but Elon Musk is still seemingly doing an admirable job of airing all of the dirty laundry, no matter where the finger points in the end. Twitter was doing some very bad things in terms of helping the government censor free speech, but the culprits may have been scattered throughout the upper levels of the company and not solely found at the CEO level.

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