House Oversight Committee Wanted To Berate Twitter’s Old Management Over Hunter Biden’s Laptop; Instead, It Revealed Trump Censorship Attempts
from the about-that dept
I have a confession. While yesterday the House Oversight Committee took up six hours (sorta, as there was a big power outage in the middle) wasting everyone’s time with a hearing on “Twitter’s Role in Suppressing the Biden Laptop Story,” I chose not to watch it in real-time. Instead, afterwards I went back and watched the video at 3x speed (and skipped over the giant power outage part), meaning I was able to watch the whole thing in less than two hours. If you, too, wish to subject yourself to this abject nonsense, I highly recommend doing something similar. Though, a better option would be just not to waste your time.
Unfortunately, the panelists — four former Twitter employees — had neither option at hand and had to sit through all of the craziness. By this point, I’m kind of used to absolutely ridiculous hearings in Congress trying to “grill” tech execs over things. They have a familiar pattern. The elected officials engage in pure grandstanding, ironically deliberately designed to try to make clips of them go viral on the very social media they’re criticizing. But this one was even worse. Honestly, the four witnesses — former deputy general counsel James Baker, former legal chief Vijaya Gadde, former head of trust & safety Yoel Roth, and a former member of the safety policy team, Anika Collier Navaroli — barely had time to say anything. Almost all of the politicians used up most of their own 5 minutes on their own grandstanding.
To the extent that they asked any questions (and this was, tragically, mostly true on both sides of the aisle, with only a few limited exceptions), they asked misleading, confused questions, and when any of the witnesses tried to clarify, or to express anything even remotely approaching nuance, the elected officials would steamroll over them and move on.
Nothing in the hearing was about finding out anything.
Nothing in the hearing was about exploring the actual issues and tradeoffs around content moderation.
Many of the Republicans wanted to just complain that their own tweets weren’t given enough prominence on Twitter. It was embarrassing. On the Democratic side, many of the Representatives (rightly) called out that the whole hearing was stupid nonsense, but that didn’t stop a few of them from pushing their own questionable theories, including the suggestion from Rep. Raskin (whose comments were mostly good, including calling out how obviously ridiculous the same panel would be if they called Fox News to explain its editorial choices) that Twitter’s failure to stop January 6th from happening was illegal or Rep. Bush’s suggestion that social media should be nationalized. On the GOP side, you had Rep. Boebert suggest that the panelists had broken the law in exercising their 1st Amendment rights, and multiple other Reps. insist over and over again — even as the panelists highlighted the contention was blatantly false — that Twitter deliberately suppressed the Biden laptop story.
Of course, if you’ve read Techdirt, you already know what the Twitter files actually showed, which was that the decision to block the links to that one story for one day was a mistake, but had nothing to do with politics, or pressure from Joe Biden or the FBI. But the hearing was extremely short on facts from the Representatives, who just kept repeating false claim after false claim.
But… the biggest reveal was actually that the Donald Trump White House demanded that Twitter remove a tweet from Chrissy Tiegen which Trump felt insulted by. Remember, in the original Twitter Files, Matt Taibbi had insisted that the Trump White House sent takedown demands to Twitter, but in all of the Twitter files since then, no one (not Taibbi or any of the others who got access) have said anything about what Trump wanted taken down. Instead, it was Navaroli who talked about how the Trump White House had complained about this tweet, and demanded Twitter take it down.
That tweet was in response to Trump whining that after he signed a Criminal Justice Reform bill he didn’t get enough credit. In the short four tweet rant, Trump mentions “musician @johnlegend, and his filthy mouthed wife, are talking now about how great it is – but I didn’t see them around when we needed help getting it passed.” Tiegen then responded as seen above.
And it actually sounds like Twitter did the same thing it does with every note from anyone — government official or other — and reviewed the tweet against its policies. Apparently, there was some sort of policy that would take down tweets if there were three insults in a tweet, and so they had to analyze if “pussy ass bitch” was three insults or one giant insult (or two? I dunno). Either way, it was determined that it didn’t meet the three insult threshold and remained on the site.
Still, this certainly raises the question: in all of the “Twitter Files,” where is the release of the details about Trump getting his panties in a bunch and demanding that Tiegen’s tweet get taken down?
Now, I’m expecting that all the people in our comments who have insisted that the FBI highlighting tweets that might violate actual policies is a Constitutional violation will now admit that the former President they worship also violated the Constitution under their understanding of it… or, nah?
Speaking of the former President, Navaroli also revealed yet another way in which Twitter bent over backwards to protect Trump and other Republicans. She relayed the discussion over a tweet by Trump, in which he suggested that Congressional Representatives of color, with whom he had policy disagreements should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
At the time, Twitter’s policies had a rule against attacking immigrants, and even called out the specific phrase “go back to where you came from,” as violating that policy. Navaroli discussed how she flagged that tweet as violating the policy, but was overruled by people higher up on the team. And, soon after that, the policy was changed to remove that phrase as an example of a violation.
Now, there are arguments that could be made for why that particular tweet, in context, might not have truly violated the policy. There are also pretty strong arguments for why it did. Reasonable people can disagree, and I would imagine that there was some level of debate within Twitter. But to make that call and then soon after delete the phrase from the policy certainly suggests going the extra step not to “censor conservatives” but to give them extra leeway even as they violated the site’s policies repeatedly.
The whole thing was as parade of nonsense, and I even heard from a Republican Congressional staffer afterwards complaining about how the whole thing completely backfired on Republicans. They set out to “prove” that Twitter conspired with the US deep state to censor the Hunter Biden laptop story. And, in the end, the witnesses quite effectively debunked each point of that, while instead the key takeaway was that Trump demanded a tweet insulting himself be taken down, and Twitter explicitly changed its rules to protect Trump after he violated the rules.
Just a total shitshow all around.
But, at least I got to watch it at 3x speed.
Filed Under: 1st amendment, chrissy tiegen, content moderation, donald trump, editorial discretion, fbi, grandstanding, house oversight committee, hunter biden laptop, james baker, james comer, lauren boebert, vijaya gadde, yoel roth