It is not clear what is more chilling: the menacing role played by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Twitter’s censorship program or its mendacious response to the disclosure of that role. This week saw another FBI “nothing-to-see-here” statement to the release of files detailing how it actively sought to suppress the Hunter Biden story before the 2020 election, gave millions to Twitter, and targeted even satire or tiny posts that did not conform with its guidelines.
The releases document what some of us have long alleged: a system of censorship by surrogate or proxy. The FBI has largely shrugged and said that there is nothing concerning about over 80 agents working on the censoring of posters, including many American citizens.
In the latest statement, the FBI stated it did not command Twitter to take any specific action when flagging accounts to be censored:
“We are providing it so that they can take whatever action they deem appropriate under their terms of service to protect their platform and protect their customers, but we never direct or ask them to take action.”
The files shows a previously undisclosed back channel of contacts where the FBI nudged Twitter to censor posters and Twitter proceeded to do so. Many are like the Nov. 10th email saying “Hello Twitter contacts, FBI San Francisco is notifying you of the below accounts which may potentially constitute violations of Twitter’s Terms of Service for any action or inaction deemed appropriate within Twitter policy.”
Notably, when four such accounts were given such purely discretionary, not-threatening-in-the-slightest flags, Twitter suspended three of the four accounts were suspended, and called for a review the fourth account flagged by the FBI for “possible civic misinformation.”
It is all just friendly chit chat from the “Public Sector Engagement Squad” at FBI’s San Francisco office.
The files also reveal a message to the former Deputy General Counsel (and former FBI General Counsel) Jim Baker revealed that Twitter collected $3,415,323 from the FBI.
“Jim, FYI, in 2019 SCALE instituted a reimbursement program for our legal process response from the FBI. Prior to the start of the program, Twitter chose not to collect under this statutory right of reimbursement for the time spent processing requests from the FBI. I am happy to report we have collected $3,415,323 since October 2019! This money is used by LP for things like the TTR and other LE-related projects (LE training, tooling, etc.).”
The FBI spokesperson said,
“The correspondence between the FBI and Twitter show nothing more than examples of our traditional, longstanding and ongoing federal government and private sector engagements, which involve numerous companies over multiple sectors and industries. As evidenced in the correspondence, the FBI provides critical information to the private sector in an effort to allow them to protect themselves and their customers.”
“The men and women of the FBI work every day to protect the American public. It is unfortunate that conspiracy theorists and others are feeding the American public misinformation with the sole purpose of attempting to discredit the agency.”
What is striking about this statement is that the FBI is now adopting the language of pundits on the left that any objections to its role in censorship is a “conspiracy theory.” Rather than acknowledge the concerns and pledge to work with Congress to guarantee transparency, it is attacking free speech advocates who are raising the concern that Twitter had become an agent of the government in censorship. Notably, Twitter itself now believes that such an agency relationship existed.
The statement shows an agency that is still engaged in framing public opinion and echoing the narrative being advanced by the White House. There are some who would question whether “working every day to protect the American public” should include censoring the public to protect it against errant or misleading ideas. There was a time when that was not a “conspiracy theory.”