Independent author Michael Shellenberger published Part 4 of the “Twitter Files” on Saturday night, following a week of significant revelations about the political activities that transpired under the former leadership of the influential social media company.
Shellenberger, an ecomodernist who publishes his writings on Substack, outlined in Part 4 of the Twitter files how company executives built their case for permanently banning former President Donald Trump from the platform on Jan. 7, 2021.
It comes after the release of Part 3 of the internal files on Friday by independent journalist Matt Taibbi, which exposed Twitter’s activities from before the 2020 election up to the chaotic breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Shellenberger, Taibbi, and a number of other journalists has had access to internal company communications outlining Twitter’s approach to information moderation during the times predating new CEO Elon Musk’s October takeover.
Shellenberger said late Saturday the internal communications showed that Twitter leadership had decided to pursue a change of policy “for Trump alone, distinct from other political leaders,” and that they expressed “no concern for the free speech or democracy implications of a ban.”
Following the events of Jan. 6, former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was facing growing internal and external pressure to ban Trump from the platform, Shellenberger said.
Trump was demonized among Democrats, which was the political preference among most of Twitter’s staff and senior executives. “In 2018, 2020, and 2022, 96%, 98%, & 99% of Twitter staff’s political donations went to Democrats,” according to Shellenberger.
Voices pressuring Dorsey to remove Trump after the events of Jan. 6 included former First Lady Michelle Obama, tech journalist Kara Swisher, and the Jewish NGO Anti-Defamation League, among many others, Shellenberger noted.
Because Dorsey was on vacation, he “delegated much of the handling of the situation” to senior Twitter executives at the time. They were Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, and Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s former head of legal policy and trust.
Roth had publicly acknowledged his anti-Trump views on Twitter many times. He had posted in 2017 that there were “ACTUAL NAZIS IN THE WHITE HOUSE,” in reference to President Trump.
Shellenberger said Roth was “excited to share” that Dorsey approved a decision for Twitter to introduce a new policy that would allow it to permanently ban users who are considered a “repeat offender for civic integrity.”
“The new approach would create a system where five violations (‘strikes’) would result in permanent suspension,” according to Shellenberger.
1. TWITTER FILES, PART 4
The Removal of Donald Trump: January 7
As the pressure builds, Twitter executives build the case for a permanent ban
— Michael Shellenberger (@ShellenbergerMD) December 10, 2022
“The exchange between Roth and his colleagues makes clear that they had been pushing [Dorsey] for greater restrictions on the speech Twitter allows around elections,” Shellenberger commented.
He cited what a member of Roth’s Trust and Safety Team wrote on Jan. 7 in response to Dorsey’s approval of the new policy: “Progress! Does this affect our approach to Trump, who I think that we publicly said had one remaining strike?”
“Trump continues to have his one strike,” Roth responded. “This is for everything else.”
Despite that, by the following day, Jan. 8, Twitter announced a permanent ban on Trump, citing “risk of further incitement of violence.”
Shortly following Trump’s ban, The Epoch Times reached out to Twitter asking whether it had any solid evidence that Trump’s statements were directly linked to any violence. Twitter did not respond.
Shellenberger noted what appears to be a conflict in Twitter policy over time, such that while Twitter on Jan. 8 said Trump’s ban is based on “specifically how [Trump’s tweets] are being received & interpreted,” the social media giant back in 2019 said it did “not attempt to determine all potential interpretations of the content or its intent.”
Lower Level Employee Expressed Concern
“The *only* serious concern we found expressed within Twitter over the implications for free speech and democracy of banning Trump came from a junior person in the organization,” Shellenberger said. “It was tucked away in a lower-level Slack channel known as ‘site-integrity-auto.’”
The message from the junior employee reads: “This might be an unpopular opinion but one off ad hoc decisions like this that don’t appear rooted in policy are imho a slippery slope… This now appears to be a fiat by an online platform CEO with a global presence that can gatekeep speech for the entire world – which seems unsustainable.”
The same employee had written earlier in the day that their concern is “specifically surrounding the unarticulated logic of the decision by [Facebook],” which suggests the idea or “conspiracy theory” that “all social media heads and internet moguls at every layer sit around like kings casually deciding what people can and cannot see.”
The employee said they believed the situation is “unhelpful to the internet ecosystem as a whole.”
The employee also provided a link to an article titled “Facebook Chucked Its Own Rulebook to Ban Trump” by author Will Oremus, and commented: “And Will Oremus noticed the inconsistency too.”
In the referenced article, Oremus wrote that dominant social media platforms “have always been loath to own up to their subjectivity, because it highlights the extraordinary, unfettered power they wield over the global public square and places the responsibility for that power on their own shoulders … So they hide behind an ever-changing rulebook, alternately pointing to it when it’s convenient and shoving it under the nearest rug when it isn’t.”
Upon his takeover, Musk promised to provide transparency surrounding Twitter’s practices for managing information on the platform, following extensive complaints over censorship of political speech—allegations that leadership staff at Twitter have previously denied.
Regarding the unfolding insights from the internal communications, Musk said, “Twitter is both a social media company and a crime scene.”
During a conversation on Twitter spaces Saturday night, former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka said of the relevations, “The issue here is, will we have free elections again in America? This isn’t about Twitter: this is about Facebook, this is about TikTok, this is about whether or not we’re going to have elections based on truth anymore or whether they can micro target you with propaganda down to your profile on social media and whether the FBI is directing that—that’s the issue we should be talking about.
“The problem is, do we have the capacity to have representative government in a time where one political identity controls overtly and covertly the majority of information dissemination in our nation, if not the world?”
Mimi Nguyen Ly contributed to this report.