James O’Keefe, Ryan Hartwig, and Zach Vorhies on Blowing the Whistle on Big Tech
“Even if we are removed from these platforms, we still have to be talked about on these platforms. … The stories have to be strong enough [to] force them to talk about it,” says James O’Keefe, founder of Project Veritas. Project Veritas was recently permanently suspended by Twitter.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), we sat down with O’Keefe as well as two whistleblowers from Facebook and Google to talk about Big Tech bias.
Ryan Hartwig is a former third-party content moderator for Facebook. Zach Vorhies is a former Google engineer who leaked nearly a thousand pages of internal Google documents last year.
Jan Jekielek: America Uncanceled is the theme of CPAC 2021. You’ve been experiencing a bunch of canceling, but then you’ve also been doing a bit of uncanceling.
James O’Keefe: Yes. Project Veritas’s Twitter account was taken off permanently. It was odd because they gave us the option to delete the Tweet of us talking to the Facebook vice president on the street. We didn’t delete the Tweet because CNN does that all the time and they don’t censor the number on the lamppost or whatever it is.
People say we should go to Parler and these other platforms, or create a new platform. It concerns me, because I think we need to be in the town square. I don’t think we should leave the town square and whisper amongst ourselves. For twelve years I’ve been doing this and I’ve always tried to get into the New York Times and into the Associated Press, and we continue to do that. So even if we are removed from these platforms, we still need to be talked about on these platforms. That means the stories need to be strong enough where we force them to talk about it.
After Twitter was contacted by reporters from CNN and The New York Times, Twitter made the decision to permanently suspend our account, and it’s scary. It’s scary what’s happening but I do believe that content is king—not platform. I believe that content is king. So if the story is good enough, it’ll get itself into the mainstream media.
Mr. Jekielek: What have you experienced here at CPAC? Why don’t we start with that?
Mr. O’Keefe: We have six of our whistleblowers here. They came on stage yesterday and it was very inspirational. Hopefully six becomes sixty, becomes six hundred—the humanism, the triumph of the human spirit. These are people inside Pinterest, Google, Facebook, the Postal Service. They blew the whistle, they lost their jobs for the public’s right to know. It was pretty amazing to watch. I think that every time someone does that, it creates 12 more sources [who will] come to us. We’ve become a clearinghouse for these brave insiders, these brave people.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s very interesting. In fact, you had an insider in Salesforce. I don’t think I’ve seen anything about that before, so tell me about that.
Mr. O’Keefe: Salesforce is one of the country’s largest CRMs. [customer relationship management] It’s like a cloud base for customers, so you can store all of your customers, clients, or donors if you’re a foundation.
Salesforce is a publicly traded, very large, company—Fortune 500 company. We use Salesforce at Project Veritas to store our tens of thousands of people who give us money. Salesforce informed us a couple weeks ago, after January 6, that they were terminating their relationship with us.
At the same time, we had a whistleblower inside Salesforce [who] record[ed] the Chief Operations Officer saying they’re going to suspend doing business with anybody who has speech that may indirectly lead to violence. We don’t know what they mean by that, “may indirectly lead to violence,” but this is sort of a Rubicon they’re crossing they never crossed before in these tech companies, and I think their suspension of our account was a Rubicon they’ve never crossed before.
We released that tape of the Salesforce [Chief Operations Officer], his name was [Bret] Taylor. We confronted him on the street and asked, why did you cancel us? So it’s scary what’s happening. I don’t know where this is headed, but it’s not good.
Mr. Jekielek: There seems to be more and more of these kinds of arbitrary rules which could be interpreted in many different ways, like you said. Is it just something that makes me feel uncomfortable which can potentially lead to violence? Is it something that actually does lead to violence? How do we determine that? Who determines that? It’s a very strange world we’re entering.
Mr. O’Keefe: It’s a conflict of visions over what the First Amendment is supposed to represent. We can’t have proper governance unless people are informed, and that information has to be not manufactured by the mainstream media. But there are some recourses we have. Right now, we’re suing The New York Times for defamation, as you may know, and that’s because The New York Times called our journalism in Minnesota a misinformation campaign, and said it was deceptive.
The New York Times relied upon researchers at Stanford University who just made up a quote about how I’m a disinformation expert. The New York Times ran that quote in the A section, and then USA Today ran The New York Times, and then Facebook used USA Today as their fact-checking mechanism. So it’s kind of a propaganda vortex. The system is rigged against real, raw information.
That tape we did in Minnesota was so incontrovertible. It was a cash exchange for ballots and the guy had ballots all over his lab. For The New York Times to call it a misinformation campaign—again, I don’t know what they mean by that—but because the tech platforms are aligned with The New York Times their narrative is king, and we have to fight back. The only way I know is through litigation, so we’re suing The New York Times. We’re going to sue CNN.
Fidelity, a banking institution, also told our donors that they can’t give us money, so we’re going to have to sue Fidelity. We have to put these people under oath and depositions, and force them to answer our questions, record those depositions, and put them on YouTube. We have to fight back. That’s the only solution.
Mr. Jekielek: There are a lot of people, certainly at CPAC and just out there, [who] are going to be watching this interview, I’m sure, [who] are thinking to themselves, I don’t want to be canceled, for one. Two, what can I do here? There’s so much power concentrated in so few large companies. That’s what we keep looking at.
Mr. O’Keefe: These are profound and existential questions. I don’t have the answer but I have an answer, and that is speak the truth. Like the cliche, even if your voice shakes, even if you’re canceled—speak the truth. I’m here, I’m with you, and you’re interviewing me because of what we do here. We do stories that make an impact. We did a story a month ago that led to the termination of a PBS lawyer who was caught on a hidden camera. That made [it into] the Associated Press. So we have to tell the truth.
By the way, I don’t consider myself part of the conservative movement. I’m a fact finder. If that makes me conservative, so be it. A lot of the conservatives are worried about losing their Twitter accounts. If you think about the absurdity of that, that’s like saying, “I’m worried The New York Times won’t like me if I tell the truth.”
If you actually think of it that way, I think it’s absurd that they’re worried about Twitter deplatforming them. Twitter has deplatformed one of our accounts but that’s not going to stop us. In the final analysis, we’ll have a distribution by proxy, and other people will upload our little video clips into whatever platform that exists, because content is king.
So I encourage people who say, “What can I do?” You can donate to organizations that do a good job, or you can subscribe to The Epoch Times, or you can go out there and do journalism. There are a lot of stories out there that need to be told and people are hungry for the truth, because we know that the mainstream media is not doing it.
Mr. Jekielek: This is the question: why?
Mr. O’Keefe: Why aren’t they doing it?
Mr. Jekielek: The mainstream or the corporate media, as I prefer to call it, why would you say they are not doing their job in presenting that truth?
Mr. O’Keefe: I keep going back to this book by Noam Chomsky—who, by the way, is not a right winger—”Manufacturing Consent.”
Mr. Jekielek: It keeps ringing in my mind too, actually.
Mr. O’Keefe: Everyone should re-read that book. That answers your question. There’s a symbiotic relationship between mass media and the powers that be, and journalism has been gutted. 25 years ago there were investigative reporters in every capital. They don’t exist because of big tech, because they’ve sucked all the revenue away from these papers which have now been bought by hedge funds. They fired all the reporters, so there’s no reporting. There’s no journalism and it’s all about narrative. It’s all about narrative.
In fact, [with] the bifurcation between the audiences, facts don’t even matter anymore. It’s just about opining and narrative. So my solution is to focus on fact finding. Investigative reporting is about finding facts that are manifestly damning, that are shocking to the conscience, these facts create indignation.
So 30 years ago, 40 years ago, you had muckraking journalism—it’s gone. It doesn’t exist. It’s against the interest of these large corporations to do that sort of thing. They’d rather just placate their audiences.
Dean Baquet of The New York Times just wants to tell his subscribers what they want to read and hear. Same thing with The Washington Post, which was bought by Jeff Bezos. Marty Baron is retiring from The Washington Post. I think the solution is citizens have to do it themselves. That’s what we’re trying to do at Project Veritas and we will create a legion, an army of whistleblowers. We have 6, 7, 8, 9, but we’ll get to 50 this year.
Mr. Jekielek: Certainly, there are a few upstart media out there that are trying to tell the truth as well.
Mr. O’Keefe: There’s some good people here. You guys are doing good work. You’re taking on some of those powerful people in the history of the world, so I appreciate that. We have an uphill battle.
Mr. Jekielek: Any final thoughts, James?
Mr. O’Keefe: A shameless plug for our tip line: [email protected]. That’s [email protected], if you’re on the inside and you want to reach out to us. Walking here, just in this hallway, I’ve had a number of people who say, “I’m a teacher, or my sister works at Facebook.” People are reaching out to us in droves.
Mr. Jekielek: Such a pleasure to have you on again.
Mr. O’Keefe: Thank you.
Mr. Jekielek: We’re here at CPAC 2021 with Ryan Hartwig, who worked for a contractor for Facebook doing moderation and has been generally characterized as a Facebook whistleblower. The theme of the conference is America Uncanceled. Why are you here?
Ryan Hartwig: I was here to speak with Project Veritas. I was on stage with James O’Keefe, along with other whistleblowers on Friday afternoon. It’s my first time ever at CPAC. As you mentioned, America Uncancelled, there couldn’t be a more fitting theme for this year’s CPAC conference because we’ve seen just how outrageous the censorship has become with Facebook.
Mr. Jekielek: Why don’t you tell me about that? You’re someone who knows a little bit about this.
Mr. Hartwig: I was a content moderator subcontracted by Facebook for nearly two years. I worked in Phoenix starting in 2018. I started as a Spanish content moderator, so I moderated content in Latin America. A lot of it was political. Also, about halfway through, I changed and I was moderating in North America, the English content. I saw a lot of political posts. I saw that Facebook gave exceptions in order to basically, essentially, silence conservatives and censor conservatives.
… I started moderating for Facebook in 2018. I was there about a year, and I noticed a few examples of bias. I wrote a letter to a congressman and a few senators. I didn’t hear back, and so that’s when I reached out to Project Veritas. I volunteered to film with a hidden camera. They sent me a camera, and I filmed with a hidden camera for about nine months.
Mr. Jekielek: There was some very, very interesting material that came out of this filming. Tell me a little bit about that. We’ll show that also while we’re speaking.
Mr. Hartwig: One example of bias that I found was Don Lemon, the CNN anchor. He said on air that white men are terror threats, and so Facebook gave us guidance as content partners and said, we know this violates our hate speech policy but we’re making a newsworthy exception. So that’s one exception [Facebook] gave for Don Lemon. We always saw some of the exceptions to people on the left and not on the right.
Another example, in June of 2018 during Pride Month, Facebook rolled out a new policy talking about Pride Month, but in that policy, they said that it’s okay to attack straight white males as filth for not supporting LGBT. I took screenshots of that and filmed that. Those are a couple of examples.
Throughout my time there, anytime that Trump was giving a speech, for example, when Trump gave his State of the Union Address, Facebook told us to look for hate speech coming from his speech.
Another example that stands out is, also in the summer of 2018, there was a viral video of a Trump supporter being attacked. There’s a teenager in a restaurant and he was attacked. It was viral; it had millions of views. Facebook told us to delete the video. The rationale was very questionable. They said to delete the video because the adult was cursing at the minor. In a lot of cases, the cuss words were leaked out on the news channels and whatnot, so it didn’t really make sense.
Those are a few examples. There are over 30 examples of lies that I found, and I’m writing a book right now which will be out in a couple months. It’ll be published through Skyhorse Publishing and it’ll detail and document all the exceptions, and how the policy works, and have a detailed analysis of Facebook’s policy.
Mr. Jekielek: Would you describe yourself as being a conservative when you entered into them via the contractor?
Mr. Hartwig: Yes, I have always been conservative. When I started, I was conservative. As I talked to my co-workers, most of them knew I was conservative. There were some other conservatives as well. I worked with some military veterans. It was a very open environment, a very open workplace. We discussed a lot of things, a lot of questions and things we saw in very graphic videos.
We formed a close bond with our co-workers and so we will talk about politics. Some of us are left leaning; some of us are more right leaning. But we were doing Facebook’s bidding, we were making the client happy, and so we had to follow their directives.
Mr. Jekielek: Your antenna is up for this kind of bias ahead of time.
Mr. Hartwig: Yes, because I was conservative, I did notice bias against conservatives. Some of the time, it was very nuanced, but after studying the policy for two years, I could spot little changes in the policy, and they could modify the policy every two weeks. But yes, being a conservative did allow me to put my antenna up to notice these small changes. It’s a small change, but if you have 1000 content moderators each taking down 200 posts a day, it really starts to add up very quickly.
Mr. Jekielek: About a week ago, I was talking to Kevin Sorbo, who had his Facebook page taken down. What’s really interesting, Fox News has a statement from Facebook that says that they alerted him that there were certain pieces of content that were unacceptable. He didn’t take them down, so they took the page down. He didn’t even know the statement existed. According to him, Facebook had communicated with Fox News, and he’d never gotten any communication about this at all.
I’ve heard of this kind of scenario where Facebook has said, “Yes, we’ve communicated, we’ve told people,” but the people come back, like Kevin, and just say, “No, they just took it down, I had no idea, and I would have actually made changes.” Can you speak to this at all? Do you know anything about this?
Mr. Hartwig: I didn’t have any direct interface with customers, with Facebook users. I reviewed videos, posts, comments for Facebook and Instagram. At one point, I also took down groups and pages. For example, we would get a random selection of a group, and we’d go through, and if 30 percent of the posts were violating, then we would take down the page or group.
On my interface, I didn’t see any notifications we’re sending. I wasn’t in control of the sending of notifications to the customer to explain why. On my end, I was doing it for a certain reason, but I don’t know if that was communicated to the user.
Mr. Jekielek: Tell me a little bit about this whole climate of censorship in general. Obviously, you’ve been going out, speaking about these things. Now you’re writing a book. You’re motivated to expose censorship. What do you see happening in a broader sense?
Mr. Hartwig: When I was there, from 2018 to before the election, I feel like Facebook was being a little more careful about how open they were about censorship. Now, I think their gloves are off, they really revealed their tactics. I don’t see it getting any better. We saw that, of course, Trump was suspended or even banned off of Facebook and Twitter, and that’s pretty bad. We had the head of global affairs for Facebook, Nick Clegg, say that there was no democratic process for them to follow in the United States.
I see it getting worse. I think that having the other options on social media is good. We have Gab, MeWe, Parler. I think the free market should help us overcome this censorship, but it is frightening because you have Facebook colluding with Google, Apple, and Amazon. These are very, very powerful companies.
People are looking for solutions [such as] do we reform Section 230 [of the Communications Decency Act of 1996], or do we deal with antitrust lawsuits? Antitrust might be the way to go to break these companies up. Section 230 needs to be reinterpreted by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had a chance to do that last month with a case by Jason Fyk, but they chose not to hear that case. So I think antitrust might be the way to go.
It is frightening that political discourse is being censored and silenced. In 2018, Mark Zuckerberg testified that they do not censor political speech, and I presented evidence to the contrary. I gave that to Congressman Matt Gaetz. So in July of last year, Gaetz submitted a criminal referral to the DOJ for Mark Zuckerburg.
Mr. Jekielek: Ryan Hartwig, it’s such a pleasure to speak with you today.
Mr. Hartwig: Likewise. Thank you.
Mr. Jekielek: We reached out to Facebook, but they did not respond.
Mr. Jekielek: We’re here at CPAC 2021. with Zach Vorhies. Zach, gosh, it’s been quite a while since we talked. You’re known as the Google whistleblower. You’re a Google whistleblower, obviously, but often you’re known as the Google whistleblower. What are you working on right now?
Mr. Vorhies: I’ve been really busy over the last year. There have been a number of developments that have happened. First off, there was in October of 2020 a digital ethnic cleansing, or what they call a purge, where YouTube went through and eliminated the big Trump supporting video pages that existed on its platform. It started on October 15 and it pretty much went all the way to November 3.
It’s still kind of going on now, but it’s at a slow burn in terms of kicking people off. But there was a huge purge on October 15, and there was just so much anger over it. Everyone thought, “What are we going to do about this?” So I launched a GoFundMe; “punchgoogle.com” was the URL that linked to it.
I raised $135,000, and sued YouTube over their deplatforming of all these Trump supporting video pages. That’s still ongoing today. We were trying to get an emergency injunction so that those pages could be restored by the third. The judge didn’t even hear the evidence and just shot it down.
Now we’re appealing to the Ninth Circuit Court. Surprisingly, that’s actually one of the most conservative circuit courts in the nation. We hope that we’re going to get a little bit better luck in there with our appeal. Clarence Thomas made a statement saying that he welcomed a Section 230 challenge. So we’re structuring our lawsuit to fit within that slot and we’re going to see what’s going to happen over the course of these next few months.
Mr. Jekielek: Exactly. I wanted to find out what is the meat of this lawsuit? Why is Google not allowed to do what they did starting October 15, as you described?
Mr. Vorhies: Even though they’ve got pretty onerous terms and services, they pretty much violated their own terms of service in how they got rid of these video pages. When we originally sued them, we just wanted to have a reinstatement. I forget what the term is called, the lawyer-speak for that. Basically, we can get a judge to order them, “Hey, you didn’t do it right. You have to get them back.”
Maybe YouTube would turn around and ban them again, we don’t know. But our hope was to get those channels reinstated by November 3. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, obviously. And they’re still banned today. But the meat of the matter is that Google has no reason for getting rid of these video sites, because of the fact that they are protected by Section 230.
So what we’re trying to prove is that this is malicious intent to satisfy a political agenda, and not a reasonable filtering in order to protect them from some liability. They have the Section 230 liability shield. So in this case, Section 230 actually helps us. It doesn’t hurt us.
Mr. Jekielek: Right, because they’re basically not allowed to be a publisher. They’re not supposed to be a publisher. They’re supposed to just be a platform.
Mr. Vorhies: Exactly.
Mr. Jekielek: From what I understand, you actually started writing a book about your whole experience?
Mr. Vorhies: Yes. The book is called “Panopticon.” It’s around 300 pages. It’s going to come out with Skyhorse Publishing. We’re pretty much in the final stages right now of the back and forth with the final drafts, selecting which pictures we want to include. Obviously, there’s a lot of slides involved with my disclosures. So we’re going to take the best slides that have been disclosed, include them in the book, and give a little bit more in depth background.
Mr. Jekielek: So the slides you’re talking about, that’s material you blew the whistle with about Google?
Mr. Vorhies: Yes, it’s all the information that’s already been publicized. But there’s a big pile of documents that I released. What I’m doing with the book is we’re going through, we’re taking out the choice meat, we’re putting it on there and describing what’s happening, and going more in depth with the story about not just what I did, but how I did it.
I’m hoping that this can serve as sort of a scaffolding for other whistleblowers. If they see something evil with these big tech companies, they can read this story and realize what I did, what worked and what didn’t and hopefully do the same.
Mr. Jekielek: It was when we spoke a while ago now, I can’t even remember exactly. But this was early on, when you were first disclosing some of this information. I learned about “machine learning fairness.” I don’t like this term. Orwellian, perhaps, is a good way to describe it. People seem to assume today that this is just how things work. It’s very interesting.
Mr. Vorhies: What do you mean how things work?
Mr. Jekielek: That this is a common practice or and that it’s generally known that this sort of thing occurs.
Mr. Vorhies: What’s really disheartening is the fact that censorship seems to be spreading from these different tech platforms. Amazon is announcing that they’re going to start banning books. We’re getting into an era where book-banning is trying to be normalized. The public is very intolerant towards that sort of thing. We hate it. Despite the outpouring of hate that we have towards censorship, they’re censoring more. What are the limits?
Even this event is called America Uncancelled. We’re trying to stop all of the censoring, and they keep on censoring. So we don’t know what the limits are. I hope that a year from now, I can come back and talk to you and say, “Yes, that was really bad in 2020 and in the early part of 2021, but then they pulled back.” But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think they’re going to double down.
Mr. Jekielek: Tell me briefly for the benefit of our audience, how does machine learning fairness work?
Mr. Vorhies: Machine learning fairness is an AI system that they have applied towards the social justice goals of the corporate culture of Google. The way that classifiers are trained, you take a bunch of annotated data—let’s say articles. You label some of them fake news and some of them not fake news. You run it through this neural net, and then it learns from the patterns which things constitute the triggering of the fake news classifier.
Once this neural net is trained, then you have a classifier—classifier for fake news, classifier for hate speech, classifier for all these different things. It’s a methodology of stamping out classifiers. When those classifiers are for social justice, that’s called machine learning fairness.
Mr. Jekielek: I was just reading Douglas Murray’s book, “The Madness of Crowds,” where he describes all sorts of fascinating scenarios, where this machine learning fairness can be seen in action on Google that I hadn’t even heard of before. It’s definitely coming into the popular consciousness that this is very real. So how are we going to un-cancel America, given this theme?
Mr. Vorhies: Right now, there is a disintegration. Before we had a monolithic video platform, YouTube. Everyone’s on there. The recommendation engine works on the platform, because everyone’s on the platform. But now with disintegration, what’s happening is that you’ve got four major players. You’ve got YouTube at the top, and then Rumble and then BitChute, and then Brighteon, in that order. There’s also DLive and some of the others, but those are the main four.
What the public is missing right now is a way of combining the best videos from all these different platforms and recombining them in an aggregation service. I realized a while ago that aggregation beats censorship. We don’t all need to be on the same platform. We just need a recommendation engine that crosses all these different platforms, pulls the videos of topical interest, and then puts them together on one single page.
After telling a bunch of people this and not seeing anything happen, I decided since I’m a coder for a decade, I just went and did the whole thing. I’ve got a website. I don’t want to say it right now in public, because we’re going to do a launch with the book. This aggregation is the secret sauce for defeating censorship.
What’s really going to be interesting is when this launches, what are big tech going to do? Are they going to start banning IP addresses? Are they going to start cutting us off at the domain name server level? Because if they don’t, then we’ve defeated censorship and we’ll be able to move forward again as a unified collective, rather than being shunned off the internet and not being able to regroup and reform.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Zack Vorhies, it’s such a pleasure to have you on again.
Mr. Vorhies: Thanks, Jan.
Mr. Jekielek: Google did not respond when we asked for comments.
These interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.