Five hours of questioning by the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability failed to establish a clear political motivation for former Twitter executives who temporarily blocked sharing of a negative news story about Joe Biden or any testimony establishing collusion between Twitter and the FBI.
Committee Chairman Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) nevertheless said the Feb. 8 hearing was important in that it concerned Twitter, which he said received millions of dollars from the FBI, and that it corrected misconceptions about Hunter Biden’s laptop, which he said has been falsely labeled Russian disinformation.
The news story titled “Smoking-gun Email Reveals How Hunter Biden Introduced Ukrainian Businessman to VP Dad” was published by the New York Post on Oct. 14, 2020.
Twitter prevented sharing of the story for 24 hours stating concern that its content may have been obtained through hacking. Key figures, including Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and three of the former executives who testified before the committee, have said that decision was a mistake.
After Twitter reversed the decision, the story still did not circulate on the platform for another two weeks because of a policy that required the original poster to delete the Tweet, then repost the content.
The New York Post did not do so, and Twitter then changed the policy.
Republicans aired their concern that the decision may have thrown the 2020 election to Biden. But the primary focus of their questioning was to establish that the FBI had duped Twitter into suppressing the story.
Ex-Twitter executives testifying before the committee were Vijaya Gadde, former chief legal officer, James Baker, former deputy general counsel, Yoel Roth, former global head of trust and safety, and Anika Collier Navaroli, a former senior member of U.S. safety policy team.
Most questions were directed to Roth and Navaroli, who were more directly involved with content moderation operations.
The Republicans’ theory is that the FBI duped Twitter executives into believing that Russian actors would plant disinformation in the media in October 2020 to disrupt the presidential election, and that belief caused Twitter to mistakenly censor the Post’s story, thereby throwing the election to Joe Biden.
Twitter was an easy mark, Republicans believe, because of its institutional bias. Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) asserted that 98 percent of Twitter employees had supported Democratic candidates or causes.
“I think you guys got played by the FBI,” Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said. “The information operation was run on you guys, and then by extension, run on the American people.”
Facts supporting the theory were elicited through witness testimony and seemed to make a compelling case.
Documents from the Twitter Files indicated that the post did not meet Twitter’s content moderation guidelines, which Roth confirmed.
Roth said he had been told by the FBI that they suspected a Russian disinformation campaign to take place in October, likely a “hack and leak” operation similar to the release of DNC emails in 2016.
Twitter executives regularly communicated with the FBI and other government agencies regarding both security threats.
Members of the Biden campaign staff had asked for the review of certain Tweets that seemed to violate Twitter’s content guidelines.
Roth participated in a training exercise conducted by the Aspen Institute in September 2020 in which the threat scenario was a hack and leak operation involving Hunter Biden.
The FBI had the Hunter Biden laptop in its possession for over a year before the election.
Rep. Jim Perry (R-Pa.) found the circumstances incredible.
“I know you’ve already testified here that you didn’t see that you were misled, or potentially duped,” he said to Roth, “It sure seems highly coincidental, would you agree, knowing that the FBI had the laptop that the FBI set up the War Room and the [communication] channel and told you, per your statement, that this was going to happen?”
“It’s almost impossible to tell where the FBI ends and where Twitter begins,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) said about the apparently close frequent communication between the two.
No Connection Established
Yet witness testimony failed to reveal proof that the decision to block the Post’s story was anything other than a mistake made in the heat of the moment.
None of the witnesses testified that any member of the FBI asked them to block the Post story or even communicated with them about it.
And no witness testified that any member of the Biden team was involved with the decision to block the story.
Republicans were left frustrated but still unconvinced that no wrongdoing had taken place.
“I don’t think this passes the smell test and neither do the American people,” said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas).
Ranking member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said, “This has been a wild cyber goose chase all day. It has turned up absolutely nothing.”
White House spokesman Ian Sams said, “This appears to be the latest effort by the House Republican majority’s most extreme MAGA members to question and relitigate the outcome of the 2020 election.”
Behind the Scenes
What witnesses did reveal was that Twitter employees were at times overwhelmed by the volume of content moderation decisions and the difficulty in creating and enforcing policies that would prevent hate speech and incitements to violence without infringing on the right to free expression.
Difficult moderation decisions were forwarded to an executive team, which was sometimes reluctant to act for fear of restricting free speech, especially within the United States, according to Navaroli.
She said she warned superiors about possible danger on Jan. 6, 2021, and felt that they did not remove Tweets that appeared to be a call to violence until two days later.
As for cooperating with government officials, Roth indicated that it was both commonplace and needed. He said tips on “malign foreign interference” offered by the FBI and other government agencies were invaluable for identifying malicious accounts.
Requests for review of content frequently came from both political parties, witnesses said, as well as from the public.
For example, Navaroli testified that in 2019 supervisors informed her the White House asked for the review of a Tweet by fashion model Chrissy Teigen.
The Tweet contained an insulting description of then-President Donald Trump.
While Democrats characterized the hearing as a boondoggle, Republicans remained convinced that Twitter and the FBI had both acted improperly in the case of the New York Post story.
“We’ve witnessed Big Tech autocrats wield their unchecked power to suppress the speech of Americans to promote their preferred political opinions,” Comer said.
He called the incident “a coordinated cover-up by Big Tech, the Swamp, and mainstream news.”
From The Epoch Times