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20 Dec, 2022 10:30

Newly released docs shed light on attempts to influence Twitter

Social media giant repeatedly pushed back against FBI claims of foreign disinformation campaigns on the platform
Newly released docs shed light on attempts to influence Twitter

The FBI constantly pressured Twitter for evidence of foreign influence campaigns and prodded it into sharing more data, newly released internal company communications show. At times, the social media platform pushed back against the Bureau’s claims of widespread disinformation campaigns by outside actors, according to excerpts from conversations between former Twitter executives and the FBI.

The seventh batch of Twitter documents was published on Monday by author Michael Shellenberger with the blessing of the company’s new owner, Elon Musk. The release was part of Musk’s effort to provide transparency about Twitter’s past decision-making.

According to Shellenberger, the files provide insight into how the FBI “primed” Twitter throughout 2020 towards the eventual decision to block the story about Hunter Biden’s business dealings with China, which were found on his laptop and reported on by the New York Post in October of that year.

The Post broke the story in the weeks leading up to the presidential election, which was won by Joe Biden, Hunter Biden’s father.

The FBI’s interactions with Twitter were aimed at dismissing stories, such as the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story, as Russian hack-and-leak operations, Shellenberger wrote in a lengthy Twitter thread.

“We have seen a sustained (If uncoordinated) effort by the IC [intelligence community] to push us to share more info & change our [data-sharing] policies. They are probing & pushing everywhere they can (including by whispering to congressional staff),” Twitter’s former policy director, Carlos Monje, wrote, according to an excerpt.

Internal communications further reveal that the Twitter team pushed back several times against the FBI by pointing out that the activity the Bureau had found suspicious came from accounts with low follower counts and therefore not much reach.

Responding to FBI agent Elvis Chan in 2020, Roth wrote that Twitter found “no evidence” to support the claims about two alleged separate foreign-linked disinformation campaigns on the platform that were published at the time by NBC News and the Washington Post.

According to the files previously released by journalist Matt Taibbi, Roth was “not particularly comfortable” with the FBI grilling Twitter with detailed questions over its stance on foreign influence campaigns.

The files also purported to shed light on how Twitter executives struggled to find a rationale to suppress the story about Hunter Biden’s laptop in 2020. They chose to do so anyway, even though they admitted in the published excerpts that they did not have any proof at the time that the laptop was hacked by foreign actors.