Twitter

Background

Twitter is the world’s most popular microblogging website. According to Oberlo.com, it has 330 million monthly active users and 145 million daily active users. Approximately 500 million tweets are posted each day; some 500 million people access Twitter every month without logging into an account; more than one-fifth of all U.S.-based Internet users access Twitter at least once monthly; and 63% of Twitter users around the world are men between the ages of 35 and 65.

The idea behind Twitter when it was founded was that anyone could open an account and express themselves to the world, free of charge. A user accesses the Twitter website by computer or smartphone and types a brief message limited to 280 characters (including spaces). The message then goes out over the Twitter network where subscribers, who are called “followers,” and others may read the post. The original character limit was 140, but Twitter doubled it in 2017. Users may post their thoughts along with photos, memes, videos, and other media.

In its formative years, Twitter was devoted to free speech. But that changed as the website grew, particularly after Donald Trump — an unorthodox Republican politician who inspired intense, visceral hatred from the Left — was elected U.S. President in November 2016. A prolific Twitter user, Trump used the social media platform so much during the 2016 campaign and after, that some dubbed him the “first Twitter president,” according to The Verge.

The ascendancy of Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey was tied to the rise of Trump. As of January 2020, Dorsey’s personal net worth had more than tripled since Trump became president three years before. Over that three-year period, said a January 2020 Forbes magazine report, “the tweeter-in-chief [i.e., Trump] acted as a one-man headline machine for the social media network, creating news by berating his critics, praising his acolytes and firing members of his cabinet—all on Twitter.”

Twitter’s Beginnings & Its Growth

The driving force behind Twitter has always been Jack Dorsey. In 2006, Dorsey wrote taxi-dispatching software that taxicab companies opted to use. He attended and then dropped out of New York University before relocating in 1999 to San Francisco, where he established a business that used the Internet to process the dispatching of taxis, couriers, and emergency vehicles.

In 2006 Dorsey approached entrepreneurs Evan Williams and Christopher “Biz” Stone with an idea about using instant messaging and texting; that idea would soon morph into Twitter. Dorsey himself wrote and published the first-ever tweet that same year. The name Twitter was reportedly inspired by bird sounds and was adopted after other names, including FriendStalker, were considered but turned down. Twitter made its public debut in March 2007 at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. The next month, Twitter Inc. took in venture capital and was formally incorporated.

Before long, Twitter began to revolutionize mass communication, becoming a popular means of social networking and a mainstream form of communication used by elected officials, celebrities, corporate and philanthropic leaders, athletes, and public figures of all varieties. Dorsey served as Twitter’s CEO until October 2008, at which time he assumed the post of chairman of the board.

Twitter’s popularity got a boost in 2009 when actor and TV presenter Ashton Kutcher raced with CNN to see which could reach 1 million followers first. (CNN lost.) Twitter was then featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, which led to record-setting rates of new user sign-ups.

Notwithstanding Twitter’s impressive growth, it remained unclear how the company was going to make money. Twitter did not enjoy the kind of revenue stream that typically helped websites based on membership fees or banner advertising stay financially afloat. Even as the number of unique visitors soared by 1,300 percent in 2009, the enterprise had yet to turn a profit. Twitter solved the problem in April 2010 by offering “promoted tweets,” or ads that would be embedded in search results, and this would become the website’s principal source of revenue.

In 2011, Twitter reached the 100-million user milestone. That same year, President Barack Obama invited Jack Dorsey to moderate a Twitter town hall meeting at the White House.

By 2013, commentators had come to realize Twitter’s enormous ability to influence political debate. For instance, Twitter had a noticeable “impact on the arena in which societies discuss their political issues,” wrote John Naughton at the (UK) Guardian. “What is astonishing about Twitter,” he elaborated, “is that in the seven years since it was founded as a side project to share messages among a group of friends, it has become the de facto newswire for the planet. And, unlike the recognized newswires (Reuters, AP, etc), it is available to everyone, which is why even governments sometimes now use it to release news before they give it to mainstream media.” “Twitter also has the capacity to turn ‘ordinary’ people into broadcasters,” added Naughton, “a development whose implications we are only just beginning to digest.”

In 2013, Dorsey helped Twitter raise $1.8 billion in capital during the company’s initial public offering.

In October 2015, while still serving as the CEO of Square — a software company he had co-founded in 2009 — Dorsey again assumed the role of CEO at Twitter. The company continued to grow at a rapid rate under his leadership. By the end of 2019, it employed some 4,800 workers. Trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the initialism TWTR, the stock closed at $43.62 per share on November 19, 2020, leaving the company with a market capitalization of $34.69 billion.

The Hashtag

The brainchild of Silicon Valley product designer Chris Messina, the hashtag, or # symbol, made its debut on Twitter in 2007 as a way to label tweets that dealt with specific subjects. “There was a small group of us in San Francisco using an early social network called Twitter,” Messina recalls. “We were thinking Twitter needs some kind of group organizing framework.”

Messina says he got the idea of using the pound symbol to tag tweets after seeing it prefixed to the names of Internet chat rooms. He suggested the idea to Twitter but was told that it was too “nerdy” to catch on with users.

Later in 2007, Messina asked a friend who was tweeting about a wildfire in San Diego, to add “#sandiegofire” to his tweet. Other users used the hashtag as well, and the device quickly became a regular feature of tweets. “The fact that other people actually emulated him in real time during those fires gave me a sense that this could actually work,” says Messina. “It turned out that lots of people wanted to have their voices heard and participate in a global conversation.”

By 2009, Twitter had modified its template to allow users to search for hashtags. That same year, Twitter sold the rights for its tweets to become viewable on the search engines of Bing and Google for $10 million and $15 million, respectively.

Instagram users began adding hashtags to their posts in 2010, and Facebook adopted them in 2013.

According to an April 2018 report by CNBC: “While some users simply want to brag on social media, others are using the versatile [hashtag] tool for change. It’s what some media outlets are calling ‘hashtag activism.’ #NeverAgain, #MeToo, and #BlackLivesMatter movements have gained incredible momentum thanks to their hashtags. The hashtag even had incredible influence on the 2016 U.S. presidential election with tags like #imwithher, #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, #lockherup and #feelthebern.”

Twitter Helps Circumvent Government Repression of Free Speech in Iran

In 2009, Twitter delayed its scheduled server maintenance when demonstrators in the Islamic Republic of Iran, angry about a corrupt presidential election in their country, used the website to coordinate anti-government protests. As government-controlled Iranian media reported that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the election, supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi flooded the streets but were quickly suppressed by the government. Twitter, at that point, emerged as a vehicle for disseminating information that could circumvent government censors. According to one account in Britannica.com:

“The topic #IranElection became one of the most followed on Twitter, as Mousavi supporters coordinated protests and posted live updates of events throughout the Iranian capital. On June 15, three days after the election, Twitter delayed a 90-minute maintenance period at the request of the U.S. State Department, rescheduling it for 1:30 AM Tehran time so as not to interfere with the flow of information within and from Iran. The following day, foreign journalists were banned from covering opposition rallies, and Twitter, along with other social networking sites, filled the void left by the traditional media. Government security officers tried to stanch the flow of information by blocking individual Twitterers, while opposition supporters urged #IranElection followers to change their profile settings to the Tehran time zone in an attempt to overwhelm government filters. Although the protests did not result in a change in the election results or a new election, the tweets of de facto journalists showed the potential of nontraditional media to circumvent government censorship.”

Addressing Complaints about Online Misconduct

As Twitter, which initially had very few rules defining acceptable versus unacceptable online conduct, grew, complaints about users’ misconduct increased in number. Thus, at the end of 2014 the company announced that it would thenceforth be putting greater effort into combating online abuse. In March 2015, Twitter unveiled a “Quality Filter” feature for iOS (Apple product) users to block bullying tweets from their feed.

In 2015 as well, left-wing activist DeRay Mckesson had conservative investigative journalist Chuck C. Johnson permanently banned by Twitter. Johnson had asked supporters to donate money to help him in the “taking out” of Mckesson, which the latter interpreted, without evidence, as a threat of violence. Mckesson then appeared on CNN asking for Johnson to be booted from Twitter. “I have faith in the platform,” he told the network. “I hope his suspension is indefinite.”

Blue Check Marks & the Banning of Milo Yiannopoulos

In January 2016 the controversial conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who at that time was the tech editor at Breitbart News, lost the blue check mark on his Twitter profile. The check mark is a badge indicating that Twitter has confirmed the identity of the user, and is intended to reassure high-profile Twitter users that impersonators and parody-account creators will not be able to tweet in their names and embarrass them.

It is unclear why Yiannopoulos’ blue check mark was deleted by Twitter, but he raised the issue at a March 2016 White House press conference where he said:

“It’s becoming very clear that Twitter and Facebook in particular are censoring and punishing conservative and libertarian points of view. Is there anything the president can do to encourage Silicon Valley to remind them of the critical importance of open free speech in our society? There seems to be a very clear trend. My verification check was taken away for making fun of the wrong group of people. Conservative commentators and journalists are being punished, being suspended, having their tweets deleted by Twitter.”

President Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, replied to Yiannopoulos, saying that while private companies were free to enforce their own rules, private citizens who felt that their rights had been violated could “address that before a judge in a court of law.”

Twitter, which typically did not bother to explain why it banned users, banned Yiannopoulos in July 2016 after he posted series of tweets critical of Leslie Jones, a black comedic actress who had recently appeared in a female-led version of the movie Ghostbusters. Yiannopoulos’ detractors characterized his tweets as a campaign of harassment aimed at Jones. Yiannopoulos in turn stated that he simply did not like the movie, and that this did not constitute harassment. Adding that any online trolls who may have gone after Jones were not his responsibility, Yiannopoulos railed at Twitter:

“With the cowardly suspension of my account, Twitter has confirmed itself as a safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives. Twitter is holding me responsible for the actions of fans and trolls using the special pretzel logic of the left. Where are the Twitter police when Justin Bieber’s fans cut themselves on his behalf?… Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.”

Yiannopoulos also said that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was “using the [Twitter] network as his own private fiefdom” to advance his preferred political agenda. “This utility, which is how Dorsey has always described it and how he’s wanted Twitter to be perceived, has always been run along party lines,” Yiannopoulos told CNBC. Moreover, he pointed out that Twitter’s opaque policies about permissible content were far too arbitrary. “I want Twitter to be honest with its users about the reasons for suspensions, bannings and all the punitive actions they take on their platform,” said Yiannopoulos.

Dorsey replied to Yiannopoulos by saying: “Abuse is not part of civil discourse. It shuts down conversation and prevents us from understanding each other. Freedom of expression means little if we allow voices to be silenced because of fear of harassment if they speak up.”

In 2017, Twitter put its blue check mark verification program on hold after it fielded complaints that: (a) accused the program of being arbitrary and confusing, and (b) objected to the fact that Twitter had given a blue check to Jason Kessler, a white nationalist who was the lead organizer of the infamous August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In November 2020, Twitter acknowledged that over the years it had not “been clear about who can become verified and when, why an account might be unverified, or what it means to be verified.” To address the matter, Twitter vowed to make the guidelines public and to step up its policing of blue check holders’ conduct. According to a November 2020 report by NPR, the company said that “it expects to automatically take away more of the blue check marks from users who are inactive or [who] repeatedly break Twitter’s rules, an enforcement action aimed at minimizing a user’s visibility.”

Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council

In 2016, Twitter created a Trust and Safety Council (TSC) that Tech Crunch described as the website’s “latest step in the tricky balancing act of championing free speech without also handing a free pass to orchestrated harassment via its platform.”

Twitter said that the council would: (a) offer “input on our safety products, policies, and programs”; (b) work “with safety advocates, academics, and researchers”; (c) cooperate with “grassroots advocacy organizations that rely on Twitter to build movements”; and (d) work with “community groups working to prevent abuse.” This “multi-layered approach” was needed “to ensure people can continue to express themselves freely and safely on Twitter,” said Patricia Cartes, Twitter’s Head of Global Policy Outreach.

Reason magazine panned the TSC project when it was announced, opining that “a quick glance at its membership roster suggests the council is almost as Orwellian as it sounds—and overwhelmingly biased in favor of speech suppression.” On the council were nearly 50 organizations helping Twitter to “strike the right balance between fighting abuse and speaking truth to power.” A Twitter press release listed the groups:

Anti-Bullying Pro; Anti-Defamation League; Beyond Blue; Bravehearts; Center for Democracy and Technology; Childnet; Circle of 6; ConnectSafely; Crisis Text Line; Cyber Civil Rights Initiative; Cybersmile Foundation; Dangerous Speech Project; E-Enfance; EU Kids Online; European Schoolnet; Family Online Safety Institute; Feminist Frequency; Fundacion para la Libertad de Prensa; GLAAD; Hollaback; iCanHelp; ICT Watch; iKeepSafe; INACH; Insafe; Internet Watch Foundation; Jugendschutz; LICRA; Love 146; National Cyber Security Alliance; National Domestic Violence Hotline; National Network to End Domestic Violence; NetSafe; Pantallas Amigas; Project Rockit; Reachout; Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales; Red Papaz; Safernet; Samaritans; Southwest Grid for Learning; Spunout; The Alannah and Madeline Foundation; The Wahid Institute; Thorn; UK Safer Internet Centre; Without My Consent; and Yakin.

In August 2019, Wired.com reported that members of the TSC had complained, in a letter to Twitter, that the company was ignoring them. “For the first two years of its existence, the council’s relationship with Twitter was relatively fruitful,” said the Wired.com piece. “Representatives met CEO Jack Dorsey at annual summits, and held regular calls with other company executives to discuss new policies well in advance of their rollouts. But this year, some council members say, Twitter has been far less communicative, leaving them to wonder whether its leaders still value their input and expertise.”

The TSC members’ letter also stated that council members had been left in the dark: “There have been no advance heads-up of Twitter’s policy or product changes to the council, leaving many of us to have no prior warning or let alone knowledge when answering press and media inquiries … This is embarrassing.”

In December 2019, Twitter announced that it was expanding the TSC and modifying its focus. Groups would be added to the council to advise on the “key areas” of: “Safety and online harassment”; “Human and digital rights”; “Child sexual exploitation”; and “Suicide prevention and mental health.” Twitter also planned to create “working groups on additional areas of concern,” including one that “will work on the issues we face as we broaden our interpretation of dehumanization.”

Opposing Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential Campaign

In July 2016, three past and present Twitter executives were among the signatories to a document titled “An open letter from technology sector leaders on Donald Trump’s candidacy for President,” which was written by Katie Stanton, Twitter’s former Vice President of Global Media. Some excerpts from this letter:

“We are inventors, entrepreneurs, engineers, investors, researchers, and business leaders working in the technology sector…. We believe in an inclusive country that fosters opportunity, creativity and a level playing field. Donald Trump does not. He campaigns on anger, bigotry, fear of new ideas and new people, and a fundamental belief that America is weak and in decline. We have listened to Donald Trump over the past year and we have concluded: Trump would be a disaster for innovation. His vision stands against the open exchange of ideas, free movement of people, and productive engagement with the outside world that is critical to our economy — and that provide the foundation for innovation and growth.

“Let’s start with the human talent that drives innovation forward. We believe that America’s diversity is our strength. Great ideas come from all parts of society, and we should champion that broad-based creative potential. We also believe that progressive immigration policies help us attract and retain some of the brightest minds on earth — scientists, entrepreneurs, and creators. In fact, 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Donald Trump, meanwhile, traffics in ethnic and racial stereotypes, repeatedly insults women, and is openly hostile to immigration. He has promised a wall, mass deportations, and profiling.

“We also believe in the free and open exchange of ideas, including over the Internet, as a seed from which innovation springs. Donald Trump proposes ‘shutting down’ parts of the Internet as a security strategy — demonstrating both poor judgment and ignorance about how technology works. His penchant to censor extends to revoking press credentials and threatening to punish media platforms that criticize him….

“[Trump’s reckless disregard for our legal and political institutions threatens to upend what attracts companies to start and scale in America. He risks distorting markets, reducing exports, and slowing job creation.”

2017

In 2017, Twitter banned the accounts of such notable individuals and entities as: (a) the British politician Jayda Fransen and members of her political party, Britain First; (b) alleged American white nationalist Jared Taylor and his publication American Renaissance; (c) Donald Trump ally Roger Stone; (d) Trump supporter Baked Alaska (Tim Gionet); (e) American pharmaceuticals magnate Martin Shkreli; and (f) briefly, actress and #MeToo activist Rose McGowan, who reportedly tweeted a private telephone number, an act that violated Twitter’s terms of service.

Twitter also deactivated the accounts of 2,752 Russian trolls (a list may be found here) after an investigation into the Russian Internet Research Agency.

In addition, Twitter censored one of its most popular users, President Donald Trump, in November 2017. The operation was carried out by Twitter employee Bahtiyar Duysak, “a twenty-something with Turkish roots who was born and raised in Germany,” according to Tech Crunch. For 11 minutes the president’s page informed users, “Sorry, that page doesn’t exist!” Twitter initially claimed that the account had been “deactivated due to human error.” Dorsey subsequently announced that the turning off of Trump’s account was a mistake. “We have implemented safeguards to prevent this from happening again,” tweeted the Twitter Government page. “We won’t be able to share all details about our internal investigation or updates to our security measures, but we take this seriously and our teams are on it.”

The Left was overjoyed, however, that Trump had been silenced, if only briefly. “Just gonna say it, the employee at Twitter who shut off Trump’s account for 11 mins could become a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize[,]” tweeted former U.S. Rep. David Jolly (D-Florida) on November 2, 2017.

2018

Twitter suspended more users, including political figures, in 2018.

In January, former Milwaukee Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., an outspoken Trump supporter, was temporarily blocked on Twitter for criticizing the mainstream media. One of the tweets in question, which Clarke later took down, said: “When LYING LIB MEDIA makes up FAKE NEWS to smear me, the ANTIDOTE is to go right at them. Punch them in the nose & MAKE THEM TASTE THEIR OWN BLOOD. Nothing gets a bully like LYING LIB MEDIA’S attention better than to give them a taste of their own blood #neverbackdown.”[1]

For alleged rule violations, British activist and English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson was also banned in 2018, as were The Proud Boys and their founder Gavin McInnes, along with Alex Jones and his Infowars website.

Canadian feminist writer Meghan Murphy was banned by Twitter in February 2018 after she tweeted that “men aren’t women” and “How are transwomen not men? What is the difference between a man and a transwoman?”

In August 2018, Twitter suspended the account of conservative activist Candace Owens, the communications director of Turning Point USA, after she mimicked the racist tweets of New York Times editorial board member Sarah Jeong as a way of mocking them. As CNS News reported:

“Jeong was recently hired to The New York Times’s editorial board, but shortly after her hire, tweets from several years ago resurfaced that said, for instance, ‘#CancelWhitePeople’ and, ‘oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.’

“Jeong also tweeted, ‘@RepDanMode White people have stopped breeding. You’ll all go extinct soon. This was my plan all along.’ She also tweeted, ‘Are white people genetically predisposed to burn faster in the sun, thus logically being only fit to live underground like groveling goblins.’ […]

“In an attempt to expose the double standard of the New York Times and the left in general,… Owens copied Jeong’s tweets but swapped out the words ‘white’ and ‘men’ for ‘black,’ ‘Jewish’ and ‘women.’”

In September 2018, journalist and conservative activist Laura Loomer took a page from the book of left-wing political theatrics when she was escorted out of a congressional hearing at which she confronted Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who was appearing as a witness. “You are censoring conservatives,” Loomer said. “I am asking you, President Donald Trump, help us. Please help us, Mr. President, before it is too late, because Jack Dorsey is trying to influence the [midertm] election, to sway the election to the Democrats and steal the election. That is why he’s censoring and shadow banning conservatives. You are a liar, Jack Dorsey. You are a liar.” As she was whisked out of the room, Loomer said, “We are not Russian bots, we are conservatives.”

Loomer live-streamed the events on her smartphone, asking reporters outside the hearing room: “You want conservatives and Trump supporters to be shut down, but what’s gonna happen when they come for you?” “We have an obligation as journalists to protect each other,” she continued, “and when you allow people like Jack Dorsey to come in and lie to our elected officials and say he doesn’t censor conservatives, we have a journalistic responsibility to hold him accountable. We have a duty to hold him accountable.”

In November 2018, Loomer herself was banned by Twitter after criticizing Ilhan Omar, who had just been elected as a Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota. Loomer’s offending tweet read as follows: “Isn’t it ironic how the twitter moment [that is] used to celebrate ‘women, LGBTQ, and minorities’ is a picture of Ilhan Omar? Ilhan is pro Sharia. Ilhan is pro-FGM [female genital mutilation] Under Sharia, homosexuals are oppressed & killed. Women are abused & forced to wear the hijab. Ilhan is anti Jewish.”

Days later, Loomer — wearing a sweatshirt that bore a yellow Star of David (such as European Jews had been forced to wear during the Holocaust) and the slogan “#STOPTHEBIAS” — took the fight to Twitter and chained herself to the front door of the company’s Manhattan headquarters for two hours, to protest her banishment. She livestreamed her protest on Periscope, the live-video subsidiary of InfoWars, and shouted at Twitter employees that they were working for an “evil” company.

Conservative talk radio host and former GOP candidate Jesse Kelly, associated with The Federalist, was banned from Twitter for no apparent reason in November 2018. Two days later, Kelly’s account just as mysteriously reappeared on Twitter with no explanation from the company.

Dorsey Testifies before Congress

In a September 5, 2018 hearing about “Twitter’s controversial history of arbitrarily censoring content published by the site,” Jack Dorsey testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over telecommunications companies like Twitter. In the course of his testimony, Dorsey made the following statements:

  • “I want to start by making something very clear. We don’t consider political viewpoints, perspectives, or party affiliation in any of our policies or enforcement decisions, period.”
  • “Our policies and our algorithms don’t take into consideration any affiliation, philosophy, or viewpoint.”

On September 5, 2018 as well, Dorsey told the Senate Intelligence Committee in prepared testimony: “We believe strongly in being impartial, and we strive to enforce our rules impartially. In fact, from a simple business perspective and to serve the public conversation, Twitter is incentivized to keep all voices on the platform.”

But as The Federalist points out, Dorsey’s claims of political neutrality were untrue:

“A review of Twitter’s so-called hateful conduct policy … shows that the company has explicitly codified political views into its policies. For example, the social media publisher states that it will ban users if they accurately refer to the biological sex of ‘transgendered’ individuals who believe without evidence that biological men can become biological women, and vice versa.

“‘We prohibit targeting individuals with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category,’ Twitter’s policy states. ‘This includes targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.’

“‘Deadnaming’ is the use of an individual’s name on his or her original birth certificate that generally corresponds with the individual’s immutable biological sex, and ‘misgendering’ is the accurate reference to an individual’s biological sex. Contrary to Dorsey’s claim before Congress that Twitter’s content and user censorship policies don’t take political viewpoints into account, a policy that discriminates against those who convey indisputably accurate scientific and historical information is by its very nature exclusively political.”

On the same day that Dorsey testified before Congress, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions would meet with state attorneys general later in the month to discuss concerns that tech companies “may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.”

Shadow-Banning

Twitter claims, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that it does not engage in the practice of shadow-banning. In a 2018 post, the company said:

“People are asking us if we shadow ban. We do not. But let’s start with, ‘what is shadow banning?’

“The best definition we found is this: deliberately making someone’s content undiscoverable to everyone except the person who posted it, unbeknownst to the original poster.

“We do not shadow ban. You are always able to see the tweets from accounts you follow (although you may have to do more work to find them, like go directly to their profile). And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.

“We do rank tweets and search results. We do this because Twitter is most useful when it’s immediately relevant. These ranking models take many signals into consideration to best organize tweets for timely relevance. We must also address bad-faith actors who intend to manipulate or detract from healthy conversation.”

But evidence of Twitter’s shadow-banning surfaced in 2020 after the company was hacked. As The Critic reported:

“Several screenshots, allegedly of a ‘secret admin panel,’ were circulating last night, presumably made by the hackers themselves. Twitter seemed to confirm they [the screenshots] were genuine when it began to suspend every account that shared the images.

“In it they showed the view Twitter employees get when looking at an account. They can see whether the account is active and the user’s contact details, but it also contained things which Twitter has always denied exists, namely tools to engage in shadow-banning. In one of the images, there appears to be an option to prevent the user from trending, and also one to prevent other users from finding their account if they search for it.

“After claiming for years they do not shadow-ban, Twitter admitted before the hack that they can prevent tweets from specific users showing up in people’s feeds, but they claimed that this is not shadow-banning, and (somewhat contradictorily) they claimed that they never shadow-ban based on political viewpoints. However, the feature to prevent a user’s Tweet from trending, which has long been suspected to exist, now appears to be confirmed.”

Among the notable conservatives whom Twitter shadow-banned in 2018 were Congressmen Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and Mark Meadows, Republican Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, and the black conservative commentators known as “Diamond and Silk.”

In January 2020, Twitter made shadow-banning part of its official terms of service, stating that the company “may also remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services, limit distribution or visibility of any Content on the service.”

2019

In August 2019, Twitter temporarily locked the “Team Mitch” campaign account of then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), claiming that it had run afoul of the company’s “violent threats policy, specifically threats involving physical safety.” The problem with this decision was that the video was intended to draw attention to the bad behavior of the senator’s opponents, and showed “protesters outside McConnell’s home on Monday, where they’d gathered to call for the Kentucky Republican to take action on gun control after two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, last weekend left 31 people dead.” Black Lives Matter Louisville leader Chanelle Helm could reportedly be heard in the video saying that McConnell, who had injured himself a few days before, “should have broken his little raggedy, wrinkled-ass neck.”

In November 2019, Danielle Stella, who sought the GOP nomination against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), was banned by Twitter for posting that Omar should be executed for treason if it could be proved that she had passed sensitive information to Iran. “My suspension for advocating for the enforcement of federal code proves Twitter will always side with and fight to protect terrorists, traitors, pedophiles and rapists,” Stella said.

In December 2019, Fox News Channel journalist Pete Hegseth was temporarily suspended from Twitter for doing his job, or more specifically, “for posting an anti-American manifesto from Pensacola shooter Mohammed Alshamrani,” Deadline reported. In his description of the shooter’s activities, which had led to the deaths of 3 people and the injury of 12 others, Hegseth tweeted: “The coward posted [the manifesto] just hours before his terrorist attack. This is Islamist terror. No reason to ever mince words. Saudi Arabia must be held to account.”

The End of Political Ads on Twitter (2019)

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey abruptly announced October 30, 2019, that Twitter would stop allowing political ads to be posted on its site. In a series of tweets, he explained why the company was taking such drastic action:

“We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought. Why? A few reasons…

“A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.

“While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions.

“Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes. All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.

“These challenges will affect ALL internet communication, not just political ads. Best to focus our efforts on the root problems, without the additional burden and complexity taking money brings. Trying to fix both means fixing neither well, and harms our credibility.

“For instance, it‘s not credible for us to say: ‘We’re working hard to stop people from gaming our systems to spread misleading info, buuut if someone pays us to target and force people to see their political ad…well…they can say whatever they want!’

“We considered stopping only candidate ads, but issue ads present a way to circumvent. Additionally, it isn’t fair for everyone but candidates to buy ads for issues they want to push. So we’re stopping these too.

“We’re well aware we‘re a small part of a much larger political advertising ecosystem. Some might argue our actions today could favor incumbents. But we have witnessed many social movements reach massive scale without any political advertising. I trust this will only grow.

“In addition, we need more forward-looking political ad regulation (very difficult to do). Ad transparency requirements are progress, but not enough. The internet provides entirely new capabilities, and regulators need to think past the present day to ensure a level playing field….

“A final note. This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle. It’s worth stepping back in order to address.”

2020

In April 2020, Twitter banned InfoWars personality Owen Shroyer for using Twitter and its live-video subsidiary Periscope to publicize a “You Can’t Close America” rally in Austin, Texas, opposing the state’s stay-at-home order aimed at combating COVID-19.

British entertainment industry figure Graham Linehan was banned by Twitter in June 2020 after tweeting “men aren’t women tho [sic]” in reply to a Women’s Institute post.

In June 2020 as well, high-profile, pro-Trump, British commentator Katie Hopkins was banned by Twitter for, in the company’s words, “violations of our Hateful Conduct policy.” Although Hopkins frequently made controversial statements, it is unclear what prompted the ban.

Donald Trump Jr. was temporarily suspended by Twitter in July 2020 for sharing a video clip discussing the benefits of the medication hydroxychloroquine, which some medical doctors touted as a cure or prophylactic against COVID-19. Twitter claimed that the tweet violated its rules against COVID-19 misinformation. “Twitter suspending Don Jr for sharing a viral video of medical professionals discussing their views on hydroxychloroquine is further proof that big tech is intent on killing free expression online, and is another instance of them committing election interference to stifle Republican voices,” a Trump spokesman said. “While there is indeed much disagreement in the medical community about the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in treating coronavirus, there have been studies reported by mainstream outlets like CNN, suggesting that it may in fact by an effective treatment. Those pretending otherwise are lying for political reasons.”

Suppressing the Hunter Biden Story

On October 14, 2020 — less than three weeks before the 2020 presidential election — the New York Post published a potentially game-changing story showing that the laptop computer of Hunter Biden, son of Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden, contained hard evidence of enormous corruption and deception by the entire Biden family. The Post described it as “smoking gun” evidence in the form of emails said to show that Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, had secured favors from his father when the latter was the sitting U.S. vice president, to benefit Ukrainian energy concern Burisma. Burisma had paid the younger Biden $50,000 per month to sit on its board of directors.

“The Post’s hyping of the story as some cataclysmic bombshell was overblown,” wrote Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept, but “these emails, if authenticated, provide some new details and corroboration, the broad outlines of this story have long been known: Hunter was paid a very large monthly sum by Burisma at the same time that his father was quite active in using the force of the U.S. Government to influence Ukraine’s internal affairs.”

On October 15, 2020 — one day after the Post story had broken during a time period when tens of millions of Americans were participating in early voting for the presidential election — Politico reporter Jake Sherman tweeted the following: “I tweeted a link to the New York [P]ost story right after it dropped yesterday morning, I immediately reached out to the Biden campaign to see if they had any answer…. Twitter suspended me.” Twitter justified the suspension by explaining that Sherman’s account had been “locked for violating Twitter rules” against spreading alleged misinformation. Sherman explained, however, that his goal was neither to spread information or misinformation, but simply “to raise questions about the story.”

  • Note: At a November 17, 2020 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing following the presidential election, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey lied to lawmakers, claiming that the decision to suppress the New York Post story in October had come out of Twitter’s “hacked materials” policy, even though the younger Biden’s computer had not been hacked.

Glenn Greenwald further explained what happened immediately after the New York Post article had been published: “Pro-Biden journalists created a climate of extreme hostility and suppression toward the Post story, making clear that any journalist even mentioning it would be roundly attacked,” said Greenwald. Noting the hostile climate, Twitter and Facebook tried to kill the story. as Greenwald explained:

“Just two hours after the story was online, Facebook intervened. The company dispatched a life-long Democratic Party operative who now works for Facebook — Andy Stone, previously a communications operative for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, among other D.C. Democratic jobs — to announce that Facebook was ‘reducing [the article’s] distribution on our platform’: in other words, tinkering with its own algorithms to suppress the ability of users to discuss or share the news article. The long-time Democratic Party official did not try to hide his contempt for the article, beginning his censorship announcement by snidely noting: ‘I will intentionally not link to the New York Post.’”

A follow-up New York Post article was also suppressed, Greenwald noted. This later article detailed efforts by Hunter Biden to score profitable deals with a Chinese energy outfit by dropping his father’s name. “In sum,” wrote Greenwald, “the two Silicon Valley giants, with little explanation, united to prevent the sharing and dissemination of this article. As Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce put it, ‘Facebook limiting distribution is a bit like if a company that owned newspaper delivery trucks decided not to drive because it didn’t like a story. Does a truck company edit the newspaper? It does now, apparently.’”

Greenwald continued:

“That the First Amendment right of free speech is inapplicable to these questions goes without saying. That constitutional guarantee restricts the actions of governments, not private corporations such as Facebook and Twitter. But glibly pointing this out does not come close to resolving this controversy. That actions by gigantic corporations are constitutional does not mean that they are benign.

“State censorship is not the only kind of censorship. Private-sector repression of speech and thought, particularly in the internet era, can be as dangerous and consequential. Imagine, for instance, if these two Silicon Valley giants united with Google to declare: henceforth we will ban all content that is critical of President Trump and/or the Republican Party, but will actively promote criticisms of Joe Biden and the Democrats. (Emphasis in original)

“Would anyone encounter difficultly understanding why such a decree would constitute dangerous corporate censorship? Would Democrats respond to such a policy by simply shrugging it off on the radical libertarian ground that private corporations have the right to do whatever they want? To ask that question is to answer it.”

Squelching the Hunter Biden story helped to elect his father. The month after the 2020 election, most voters believed that the media had buried the story about Hunter Biden’s foreign business adventures to aid his father’s campaign, according to a Rasmussen Reports survey. The poll found 52 percent of likely voters believed the paucity of Hunter Biden coverage was meant to help the campaign, while just 32 percent considered it a partisan hit job and 17 percent were unsure, the New York Post reported. “An even higher margin — 56 percent — said it’s ‘likely’ the elder Biden was consulted about his son’s business with Ukrainian energy company Burisma and ties to China, and perhaps profited,” said the Post. “Forty-three percent say it’s ‘very likely,’ 38 percent said it’s ‘unlikely,’ and 22 percent believe it’s ‘not at all likely’ — rates that have remained consistent with a poll in October. A whopping 76 percent of those who have been ‘very closely’ following the news believe the media ignored the stories to help the president-elect, and 72 percent of that group also think the former vice president ‘likely’ knew about and profited from his son’s dealings.”

On November 24, 2020, The Epoch Times reported that many voters in 7 battleground states who had voted for Joe Biden said they would not have voted for him if had they known about major stories the national media ignored, according to a survey that had just been made public. Knowing about claims regarding Hunter Biden’s dealings with officials and firms in China, Ukraine, and Russia would have made enough respondents change their vote to affect the outcome of the presidential election, according to the survey (pdf) of 1,750 Biden voters.

The survey found that 6 percent of Biden voters who were unaware of the information would have changed their vote to Donald Trump if they had known the information. “In 6 of the 7 states surveyed, enough voters would have not voted for Joe Biden that those states would have gone to President Trump, giving Trump 311 electoral votes and re-electing him,” the survey’s executive summary stated. “More than half of Biden voters surveyed were not aware that Facebook and Twitter prevented users from posting satirical images of Biden, or that Antifa groups and pages were still active on Facebook,” the summary stated.

“The national news media stole this election, as far as I’m concerned, they deliberately stole it from President Trump,” Media Research Center President Brent Bozell said as he released the survey results. “It is absolutely unequivocal, it cost Donald Trump the election.”

More in 2020

In October 2020, Twitter suspended the account of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan after he: (a) touted the southern border wall’s success at preventing “gang members, murderers, sexual predators, and drugs” from entering the United States, and (b) stated that “It’s fact, walls work.” The account was temporarily locked for violating Twitter’s “hateful conduct” policy. “You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease,” Twitter told Morgan.

On October 18, 2020, Twitter banned the account of Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist and a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, for defending President Trump’s opposition to mask mandates vis-a vis the coronavirus pandemics. As The Federalist points out: “In his tweet, [Atlas] cited scientific studies, and the tweet contained absolutely no false information.”

In November 2020, Twitter banned the podcast promotion account of former Trump White House strategy chief Steve Bannon, @WarRoomPandemic, for supposedly glorifying violence. During his podcast, Bannon had called for infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray to be fired if President Trump succeeded in being reelected. Then Bannon said he would like to “go back to the old times of Tudor England,” so that Fauci and Wray could be beheaded and their heads placed “on pikes.” “I’d put them at the two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats: you either get with the program or you’re gone. Time to stop playing games,” he said.

In November 2020 as well, Twitter suspended Bobby Piton, who, according to the NOQReport, was “a pivotal witness in … [a] voter fraud hearing before the Arizona state legislature.” “His searing testimony,” said NOQ, “pointed out blatant voter fraud [which had favored Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election] through incontrovertible evidence, at one point claiming he’d stake his life on the factual nature of his testimony.”

By contrast, in the lead-up to the November 3, 2020 presidential election, and after, Twitter had routinely attached disclaimers to tweets, including those of President Donald Trump, that took the position that election fraud was real and posed a threat to elections in the United States, reflexively dismissing such opinions as misinformation.

In December 2020, Twitter banned Dr. Zev Zelenko, creator of the Zelenko HCQ protocol, asserting that he was promoting medical misinformation by claiming that hydroxychloroquine was an effective therapeutic agent in the treatment of coronavirus infection. It was unclear “if the New York-based physician’s general stance on the coronavirus pandemic, available treatment and its efficiency, or a specific set of posts was what made Twitter decide to ban him from the platform,” ReclaimTheNet reported, adding:

“Back in July [2020], Zelenko published a study focusing on Covid 19 outpatients and what effect early risk stratified treatment using zinc and low doses of Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin had in reducing these patients’ hospitalizations, and fatal outcomes.

“The protocol, published online, is a retrospective study relying on outpatient data. What sets this analysis apart is that it followed the progress in 5-day treatment of patients after their first visit and outside the hospital setting, while most other studies dealt with the effectiveness of treatment with drugs of those patients whose condition had already severely deteriorated and who were hospitalized.

“The result of Zelenko’s study – done in collaboration with two Germany-based scientists, Dr. Roland Derwand and Professor Martin Scholz of Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf – were encouraging. The conclusion of the paper that was offered for peer review was that this type of treatment of those treated outside of hospitals resulted in five time[s] less need for hospitalization, and deaths.”

Collusion with the Biden Presidential Campaign and California Democrat Officials to Censor Speech About the Election

In April 2021, it was reported that the government watchdog organization Judicial Watch had obtained — as a result of a public records request stemming from a December 2020 report that California’s Office of Election Cybersecurity had successfully asked the Big Tech companies Twitter, Facebook and Google to remove or flag at least two dozen messages — more than 500 pages of documents from the California Secretary of State. Fox Business reported that these documents showed “California officials colluding with social media giants to censor speech surrounding the 2020 elections,” adding:

The group [Judicial Watch] also said a communications firm linked to the Biden campaign played a role in determining which posts should be censored by creating “Misinformation Daily Briefings” that the officials shared with Twitter, Facebook and Google. “These new documents suggest a conspiracy against the First Amendment rights of Americans by the California Secretary of State, the Biden campaign operation, and Big Tech,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “These documents blow up the big lie that Big Tech censorship is ‘private’ – as the documents show collusion between a whole group of government officials in multiple states to suppress speech about election controversies.”

2021: Twitter Cancels Accounts of President Trump, His Supporters, & Other Conservatives

On January 6, 2021 — shortly after several hundred people claiming to be Trump supporters had temporarily occupied the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., to protest what they viewed as an illegitimate 2020 presidential election result — Twitter announced that it was suspending President Trump’s account, which had 88 million followers, for 12 hours. Alleging that Trump had incited the protesters’ lawlessness by tweeting that the election had been stolen from him, the company cited “severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy” by the president. “As a result of the unprecedented and ongoing violent situation in Washington, D.C., we have required the removal of three @realDonaldTrump Tweets that were posted earlier today for repeated and severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy,” Twitter said, adding that it planned to lock the account for 12 hours if the tweets were not taken down. “If the Tweets are not removed, the account will remain locked,” the announcement continued. “Future violations of the Twitter Rules, including our Civic Integrity or Violent Threats policies, will result in permanent suspension of the @realDonaldTrump account.”

Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube all removed a video of Trump asking the Capitol protesters to disperse. “You have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order, we have to respect our great people in law and order,” Trump said in the video.

Also after the January 6 riot at the Capitol, Twitter announced that it had purged upwards of 70,000 accounts affiliated with conspiracy theory QAnon. “Twitter said in a blog post that it removed the accounts ‘to protect the conversation on our service from attempts to incite violence, organize attacks, and share deliberately misleading information about the election outcome,’” reported the Washington Post. “The accounts have been suspended in line with our policy on Coordinated Harmful Activity,” a Twitter spokesperson said. “We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm, and given the renewed potential for violence surrounding this type of behavior in the coming days, we will permanently suspend accounts that are solely dedicated to sharing QAnon content.”

On January 7, 2021, The Hill newspaper reported that Twitter had banned pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood. The company refused to explain why Wood was booted from the platform, other than to say that he had broken Twitter’s rules.

On January 7 as well, Twitter placed a 12-hour suspension on the account of Fox News contributor Dan Bongino, as punishment for Bongino’s decision to post video footage of a speech that President Trump had recently made. Upon learning of the suspension, Bongino announced that he would not be returning to Twitter, where he had 2.8 million followers. “I’ll make my last post, my one final ‘F— you’ to Twitter — and you can print that, by the way — tomorrow,” he told TheWrap on January 7. “… Regardless of your feelings about what [Trump] said and how he said it, he’s the president of the United States.”

Twitter also prevented users from commenting on, or liking, a January 7, 2021 tweet by Jenna Ellis, a member of President Trump’s legal team, after she described Arizona’s newly certified electoral votes in favor of Joe Biden as “illegal.” Ellis’ tweet read as follows: “93-6 in the Senate to ratify the illegal certification in Arizona. The Republican Party is officially over today.”

Twitter also suspended the accounts of Trump’s former national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (retired) and his attorney, Sidney Powell. Powell told The Epoch Times in an article dated January 8, 2021, that there “was no warning at all” about her account being deleted, a development she described as “stunning.” “Twitter’s actions and those of banks who shut down accounts of people who went to DC are fascism in its purest form,” she said. “The President must act on the foreign interference in this election. It is a communist coup that has been long and well-planned.”

On January 8, 2021, Twitter permanently suspended President Trump’s account, stating in a tweet: “After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” In a blog post later that same day, Twitter expanded upon the reasoning behind its decision:

“In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday [January 6] that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action. Our public interest framework exists to enable the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly. It is built on a principle that the people have a right to hold power to account in the open. However, we made it clear going back years that these accounts are not above our rules and cannot use Twitter to incite violence. We will continue to be transparent around our policies and their enforcement.”

In the same blog post, Twitter attributed Trump’s permanent suspension to his two most recent tweets, posted on January 8, which read as follows:

  • “The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
  • “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

Twitter explained its objection to those two Trump tweets as follows:

Due to the ongoing tensions in the United States, and an uptick in the global conversation in regards to the people who violently stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, these two Tweets must be read in the context of broader events in the country and the ways in which the President’s statements can be mobilized by different audiences, including to incite violence, as well as in the context of the pattern of behavior from this account in recent weeks. After assessing the language in these Tweets against our Glorification of Violence policy, we have determined that these Tweets are in violation of the Glorification of Violence Policy and the user @realDonaldTrump should be immediately permanently suspended from the service…. This determination is based on a number of factors, including:

* President Trump’s statement that he will not be attending the Inauguration is being received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate and is seen as him disavowing his previous claim made via two Tweets (12) by his Deputy Chief of Staff, Dan Scavino, that there would be an “orderly transition” on January 20th.

* The second Tweet may also serve as encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a “safe” target, as he will not be attending.

* The use of the words “American Patriots” to describe some of his supporters is also being interpreted as support for those committing violent acts at the US Capitol.

* The mention of his supporters having a “GIANT VOICE long into the future” and that “They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” is being interpreted as further indication that President Trump does not plan to facilitate an “orderly transition” and instead that he plans to continue to support, empower, and shield those who believe he won the election.

* Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021.

As such, our determination is that the two Tweets above are likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on January 6, 2021, and that there are multiple indicators that they are being received and understood as encouragement to do so.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was vacationing on a private island in French Polynesia when he made the decision to permanently suspend Trump’s Twitter account. On January 6 Dorsey received a phone call from Twitter’s top lawyer, Vijaya Gadde, to whom Dorsey had delegated all moderation-related decisions, and Gadde informed Dorsey that Trump’s account had been temporarily suspended in order to prevent him from posting any further statements relating to the protests at the Capitol. According to a New York Times report: “Mr. Dorsey was not sold on a permanent ban of Mr. Trump. He emailed employees the next day, saying it was important for the company to remain consistent with its policies, including letting a user return after a suspension. Many workers, fearing that history would not look kindly upon them, were dissatisfied. Several invoked IBM’s collaboration with the Nazis … and started a petition to immediately remove Mr. Trump’s account.” But after Trump subsequently posted two additional tweets on January 8, Dorsey and other Twitter executives decided that he had “crossed a line.” Thus came the permanent suspension, which caused many Twitter employees to celebrate — in some cases weeping with joy.[2] 

On January 17, 2021, NPR reported that Twitter had temporarily suspended the account of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia), saying it did so because the Trump-supporting freshman congresswoman endorsed the QAnon conspiracy theory. Greene was locked out for “multiple violations of our civic integrity policy,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

LifeSiteNews reported on January 25, 2021, that Twitter had suspended two of its accounts for referring to President Joe Biden’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of Health at the Department of Health & Human Services, transgender Rachel Levine, who was born male, as a man. The accounts stated that Levine, a father of two who divorced his wife in 2013 after 30 years of marriage, was “a gender-confused man.”

On January 26, 2021, NPR reported that Twitter had permanently suspended Donald Trump ally and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell — the producer of Absolute Proof, a documentary claiming that the 2020 presidential election victory of Joe Biden had occurred as a result of massive fraud — for “repeated violations of our Civil Integrity Policy.” No specific tweet was singled out, but NPR claimed that Lindell had been “using his Twitter account to spread disinformation about the 2020 election, including false claims of voter fraud and election rigging.”

On February 6, 2021, Mediaite reported that Twitter had banned Jim Hoft, proprietor of the conservative, pro-Trump website Gateway Pundit. “The account was permanently suspended for repeated violations of our civic integrity policy,” said Twitter. That policy states that users are not permitted to use the platform “for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes.”

On February 7, 2021, Fox News reported that Twitter had banned radio host Wayne Allyn Root, on grounds that he likewise had repeatedly violated the company’s “civic integrity policy.” “I am in shock,” said Root. “It appears to be a permanent ban. Although I don’t know. Twitter never warned me…. And never sent any communication saying I’ve been suspended or banned. I simply tried to tweet yesterday afternoon and could not. But unlike a previous suspension… My followers [count] suddenly said 0 [zero].”

  • Root had previously been suspended for questioning lockdown policies surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. “That got me a 7-day suspension for ‘misleading medical advice,’” said Root. “We made [Twitter CEO] Jack Dorsey one of the richest men on earth. He got an army of worker bees to spend thousands of hours for free making him rich. And what’s my reward? No more free speech. In America. My opinions are banned. My opinions are forbidden.”

Also in early February 2021, Twitter censored The Daily Citizen, a publication of the Christian organization Focus On The Family, for allegedly violating Twitter’s rules against posting “hateful” content. At issue was The Daily Citizen’s January 19 decision to tweet a quote from one of its articles acknowledging that President Joe Biden had appointed the aforementioned transgender woman, Rachel Levine, to serve as Assistant Secretary of Health. The tweet read: “Dr. Levine is a transgender woman, that is, a man who believes he is a woman.” In response to that tweet, Twitter wrote in an email: “Hi The Daily Citizen, your account, @FocusCitizen has been locked for violating the Twitter Rules. Specifically for: Violating our rules against hateful conduct. You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.”

In late February 2021, Twitter banned The National Pulse editor Raheem Kassam immediately after he published an article critical of the Congressional Black Caucus.

In April 2021, Twitter locked the account of sports journalist Jason Whitlock because he criticized Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors over her recent purchase of a $1.4 million home in a predominantly white section of Los Angeles.

On April 15, 2021, Twitter permanently suspended the account of Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe after he posted covertly recorded, undercover videos of a CNN employee admitting that in recent years the station had dedicated its efforts to removing President Trump from office. “The account you referenced (@JamesOKeefeIII) was permanently suspended for violating the Twitter Rules on platform manipulation and spam,” said a Twitter spokesperson. “As outlined in our policy on platform manipulation and spam, ‘You can’t mislead others on Twitter by operating fake accounts,’ and ‘you can’t artificially amplify or disrupt conversations through the use of multiple accounts.’” The spokesperson did not substantiate the claim that O’Keefe was running a number of fake accounts. O’Keefe said in response: “I am suing Twitter for defamation because they said I, James O’Keefe, ‘operated fake accounts.’ This is false, this is defamatory, and they will pay. Section 230 may have protected them before, but it will not protect them from me. The complaint will be filed Monday.”

In August 2021, Twitter permanently suspended former New York Times journalist and author Alex Berenson for his “repeated violations of our COVID-19 misinformation rules.” According to an Epoch Times report: “Before his suspension, Berenson had often cited the results of a preprint Israeli study that found that previous COVID-19 infection provides better protection against the Delta variant than any of the COVID-19 vaccines. […] Those who were vaccinated, the study found, were also at a higher risk of being hospitalized compared to people who were previously infected.” Berenson had previously observed that “we are sliding into a new age of censorship and suppression, encouraged by technology giants and traditional media companies.”

Project Veritas Audio Exposes Dorsey’s Plans for Widespread Censorship by Twitter in the Future

In a secret recording of a January 8, 2021 telephone conference call that was leaked to Project Veritas, a conservative undercover journalism enterprise, Jack Dorsey stated that Twitter was exploring a long-term political censorship campaign to purge and ban users whose views the company deemed objectionable. During the phone call, Dorsey said:

  • “The focus is certainly on this [Trump’s] account, and how it ties to real-world violence, but also we need to think much longer-term around how these dynamics play out over time. I don’t believe this is going away any time soon.”
  • “We know we are focused on one account right now, but this is going to be much bigger than just one account, and it’s going to go on for much longer than just this day, this week, the next few weeks, going on beyond inauguration. We have to expect that. We have to be ready for that.”

Additional Project Veritas video footage from the same day showed Vijaya Gadde — Twitter’s legal, policy, and trust and safety lead — promising to conduct censorship on a global scale. “One of the interesting things is a lot of the work that we’ve been doing over the last week is work that we’ve built on in other places around the world, where we’ve seen violence unfold as a result of either misleading information or coded rhetoric,” said Gadde. “We decided to escalate our enforcement of the civic integrity policy and use a label that disabled engagements to stop the spread of potentially inflammatory content, which is the content around election interference, election fraud, stealing the election, that type of thing,” she added. “We’re going to actually be more aggressive in our enforcement beyond de-amplification.”

Twitter subsequently retaliated against Project Veritas by banning the nonprofit investigative outfit from its platform, The Hill newspaper reported on February 11, 2021.

Twitter’s Measurable Contribution to the Diminution of Free Speech

A study by Zingal Labs, released a few days before President Trump left office on January 20, 2021, claimed that his removal from social media had caused discussion about election fraud to plummet by 73 percent, from 2.5 million mentions across social media platforms to approximately 688,000.

The Malicious Attack on Parler

After the January 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol, Silicon Valley giants Amazon (server space provider), Apple (operator of the App Store needed to procure applications), and Google (operator of the Play Store needed to procure applications) openly colluded to shut down Twitter’s competition, the alternative microblogging website Parler, falsely claiming that the latter had allowed itself to be used as a forum in which the Capitol conspirators could plan their uprising.[3]

At that time, Parler was the #1 most popular application in Apple’s App store, as many hundreds of thousands of people – craving a free-speech forum and objecting to the rampant censorship practiced by Twitter and Facebook – had recently opened new accounts with Parler. But as a result of the Amazon-Apple-Google-Twitter collusion, Parler went offline for several weeks as it undertook the massive task of reorganizing its technical infrastructure.

Notably, the rationale that Amazon, Apple, and Google explicitly cited as justification for derailing Parler – the notion that Parler had served as a vital organizing forum for those who rioted at the Capitol on January 6 – was wholly fictitious. As the Post Millennial reported on January 13, 2021: “The censoring and removal of Parler at the hands of … the three big tech companies, Apple, Google, and Amazon, [has given rise to] … accusations of abusing monopolistic market power. No evidence has arisen thus far showing that any of the rioters organized the raid on the Capitol over Parler.”

Journalist and former civil rights lawyer Glenn Greenwald appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show on January 12, 2021, to set the record straight about the scapegoating of Parler:

“Of the first 13 people arrested by the FBI in connection with the event at the Capitol, a total of zero were active users of Parler. The overwhelming amount of planning for that event, the overwhelming amount of advocacy for people to go there and to breach the Capitol was done on Facebook, and on YouTube, and on Twitter. This is one of the ironies, is that Google is one of the monopolies that wants to police our discourse and control our thinking and rule our politics, that kicked Parler off of its app at the exactly the time that Parler had gone to number one. Google said, ‘we will not allow you [Parler] on our service,’ when the reality is the service that Google owns, YouTube, played a much greater role [in planning the Capitol riots].”

Also during his January 12 appearance on Fox News, Greenwald assailed Twitter over its behavior during the 2020 election cycle, describing its weeks-long censorship of the bombshell October 26th New York Post story about the Biden family’s corruption as “one of the most alarming events to ever take place in American politics in the last decade.” (NOTE: In the days leading up to the November 3, 2020 election, many early voters said they would not have supported Biden for president if they had heard about that story in the New York Post, whose Twitter account was immobilized in order to prevent it from publicizing the facts.)

In a January 12, 2021 article at Substack, Greenwald noted that “liberals celebrated this use of Silicon Valley monopoly power to shut down Parler, just as they overwhelmingly cheered the prior two extraordinary assertions of tech power to control US political discourse: censorship of The New York Post’s reporting on the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, and the banning of the U.S. President from major platforms.” “Not only did leading left-wing politicians not object but some of them were the ones who pleaded with Silicon Valley to use their power this way,” added Greenwald, referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York).

Left-wing journalist Michelle Goldberg, who seemed worried about the power of big tech companies, praised their heavy-handedness nevertheless. “That is because the dominant strain of American liberalism is not economic socialism but political authoritarianism and they are now calling for the use of the most repressive War on Terror measures against their domestic opponents.”

On February 8, 2021, Forbes magazine provided updated statistics vis-à-vis the extent to which Parler had been used by organizers of the January 6 Capitol riot:

“Facebook is the most widely-referenced social media network in court documents about 223 people arrested in connection with the attempted insurrection on January 6, according to a review of the documents by Forbes. References in the documents … include posts, messages, and livestreamed videos…. Facebook is far more widely referenced than other networks, including Parler…. In those documents, Facebook is referenced more than 70 times…. By comparison, Instagram and YouTube are referenced only a few dozen times at most, while Parler only shows up eight times.”

Twitter’s Hypocrisy & Double Standards

In mid-January 2021, broadcaster and syndicated columnist Larry Elder noted how Twitter is not inclined to suspend or ban liberals and leftists for spreading misinformation that could potentially lead to civil unrest. Wrote Elder:

“For four years, Hillary Clinton, the failed 2016 presidential candidate, has called the 2016 election ‘stolen’ while frequently describing Trump’s election as ‘illegitimate,’ only the result of Russian interference. ‘I believe he understands that the many varying tactics they used,’ said Clinton in 2019, ‘from voter suppression and voter purging to hacking to the false stories — he knows that — there were just a bunch of different reasons why the election turned out like it did.’

“Similarly, in 2019, former President Jimmy Carter said: ‘There’s no doubt that the Russians did interfere in the election, and I think the interference, although not yet quantified, if fully investigated would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016. He lost the election, and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf.’

“Indeed, according to an August 2018 Gallup poll: ‘Democrats widely believe Russians interfered in the 2016 campaign and that it changed the outcome of the election (78% say this), presumably by helping Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.’ Never mind that Jeh Johnson, Barack Obama’s former secretary of Homeland Security, said in his June 2017 testimony before a congressional committee: ‘To my current knowledge, the Russian government did not through any cyber intrusion alter ballots, ballot counts or reporting of election results.’  Yet, Hillary faces no ban from Twitter, despite promoting a dangerous, divisive 2016 election narrative not supported by the intelligence community.

“In 2012, then Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., stood on the floor of the Senate and knowingly, falsely accused Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, of not paying taxes. Reid later, out of office, bragged that he knowingly told this ‘rich don’t pay taxes’ lie to damage Romney’s candidacy. It worked. Reid remains active on Twitter.

“Ron Fournier, the former Washington, D.C., Associated Press bureau chief, in 2015, publicly said President ‘George W. Bush lied us into war in Iraq.’  True, the bipartisan Robb-Silberman commission found the intel leading up to the Iraq war ‘dead wrong.’ But co-chair Laurence Silberman said: ‘It is one thing to assert, then or now, that the Iraq war was ill-advised. It is quite another to make the horrendous charge that President Bush lied to or deceived the American people about the threat from Saddam.’ Fournier remains active on Twitter.”

Shortly after two mass shootings in March 2021 — one in Boulder, Colorado, and another in Atlanta, Georgia — had killed a combined total of 18 people, Newsweek magazine drew Twitter’s attention to four particular tweets that had incorrectly identified the killer in Boulder as a white Christian male, when in fact he was a Muslim who hailed from Syria. Newsweek wanted to know if the four posts were in violation of Twitter’s policy that banned “misinformation.” Key excerpts from the four tweets were as follows:

  • “A white Christian Terrorist killed ten innocent people with a gun in a grocery store, Colrado, USA.” (Source: @BBCWorld)
  • “Call it what it is ..White supremacist domestic terrorism” (Source: actress Rosanna Arquette)
  • “Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old black child. Police shot him in 1.7 sec & let him suffer in agonizing pain for 4 min & die. Colorado terrorist is a grown white man who killed 10 people including a cop. Cops arrested him alive & helped him to a stretcher for immediate medical care.” (Source: attorney and former Democratic congressional nominee Qasim Rashid)
  • “Pointing out how white suspects get the benefit of the doubt without being stopped, frisked, beaten, shot or killed is not a call for harsh treatment It simply means we KNOW cops are capable of treating ppl humanely….just not us [blacks]” (Source: Michael Harriot, senior writer at The Root)

“The Tweets referenced are not in violation of the Twitter Rules,” a Twitter spokesperson told Newsweek. “We will not take action on every instance of misinformation. Currently, our misinformation rules cover COVID-19 misinformation, synthetic and manipulated media, and civic integrity.” (“Civic integrity” policies forbade things like “false claims that the 2020 U.S. election was rigged.”)

Twitter Suspends a Leftist, Naomi Wolf

In early June 2021, Twitter suspended the account of author and former Bill Clinton adviser Naomi Wolf, claiming that Wolf, who had amassed more than 140,000 Twitter followers over the years, had used the platform to share misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. In March, for example, Wolf had stated that plans to create a “vaccine passport” would imperil Americans’ civil liberties. “It is not about the vaccine,”  she told Fox News on March 28, “it’s not about the virus, it’s about your data. Once this rolls out, you don’t have a choice about being part of the system.” Wolf likened such a system to the “social credit system” that the Chinese Communist Party employs to punish dissenting viewpoints or opinions critical of the regime in Beijing.

Twitter Is Sued by Former President Trump

On July 7, 2021, former President Donald Trump announced that he, as the lead plaintiff, was launching, on behalf of the victims of “cancel culture,” a class action lawsuit against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Specifically, Trump said he was demanding the end of “shadow banning” and “blacklisting,” and that “we are asking the court to impose punitive damages on these social media giants.” “There is no better evidence that big tech is out of control than the fact that they banned the sitting President of the United States earlier this year, a ban that continues to this day,” he added.

In a speech he delivered at the annual CPAC conference on July 11, 2021, Trump said the following about his lawsuit:

“We are suing Facebook, Twitter, and Google…. In addition to their malicious attacks on free speech, these Silicon Valley tyrants are also attacking our democracy itself. The big tech election interference in 2020 was an outrageous assault upon our Republic and upon the American voter. Terrible thing has happened to our country. We’re being laughed at all over the world. Our election has been studied by other countries. They’re not going to do it that way. Mark Zuckerberg alone spent $ 400 million dollars on election meddling. In virtually all of the key swing states, he funded unmanned and unprotected drop boxes that were deployed in Democrat run cities and heavily Democrat precincts to scoop up ballots which were supposedly 94, 95, 96% for Joe Biden, because he campaigned so well from his basement. […]

“At the same time, the big tech giants worked together to suppress and diminish news coverage that was negative for Joe Biden. Look at all these stories that came up, and they were wiped out. Anything negative for Biden or the radical left Democrats, they just suppressed. And the most horrendous example, the oldest newspaper in America, and one of my favorites. It’s a great one. The New York Post broke one of the biggest scandals ever to emerge in a presidential election, providing extraordinarily detailed evidence of the corruption of Joe Biden and … Hunter Biden. […]  Then without any basis whatsoever, Twitter and Facebook banned the New York Post’s account of this terrible story. After the election, one poll showed that at least 10% of Joe Biden’s voters would have switched their vote if they had known about Joe and Hunter Biden’s scandals, enough to flip the results of numerous states. […]  The truth was covered up, and it had a giant impact on the election.”

The Biden Administration Admits Its Collaboration with the Social Media Giants, Meaning That They Are Government Actors

At a July 15, 2021 press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the Biden administration was actively identifying “problematic” posts for Facebook to censor or purge because they contained “misinformation” about COVID-19. “We are in regular touch with the social media platforms,” she stated, “and those engagements typically happen through members of our senior staff and also members of our COVID-19 team — given [that] this is a big issue, of misinformation, specifically on the pandemic.” “We’ve increased disinformation research and tracking within the Surgeon General’s Office,” Psaki added. “We are flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.” “Facebook,” in turn, “needs to move more quickly to remove harmful violative posts,” said Psaki.

At the same press briefing, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said “we’re asking [social media companies] to consistently take action against misinformation superspreaders on their platforms.” “Misinformation takes away our freedom to make informed decisions about our health and the health of our loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added. “Health misinformation has led people to resist wearing masks in high-risk settings. It’s led them to turn down proven treatments and to choose not to get vaccinated. This has led to avoidable illnesses and deaths.”

The New York Post noted that Psaki’s and Murthy’s professed concern about “misinformation” could be used — by the government and its social-media allies — as a pretext for censoring free speech and silencing all dissent — even if the dissidents were in fact correct in what they were saying:

“The demand for censorship — and Psaki’s admission of government involvement — follows a series of flip-flops from health officials who contradicted themselves throughout the pandemic on issues such as mask efficacy, as well as censorship of claims that later gained credibility, such as the theory that COVID-19 leaked from a Chinese lab…. Facebook this year stopped censoring posts that claimed COVID-19 may have emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China due to “evolving” information that bolstered the theory. Social media networks have censored other posts before backtracking — notably including Facebook and Twitter censoring The Post’s reporting in October [2020] on documents from a laptop formerly belonging to Hunter Biden that appeared to link his father to business pursuits in China and Ukraine.

John Coale, the attorney who was in the midst of filing lawsuits against Twitter, Facebook, and Google on behalf of Donald Trump, said that the Trump lawsuits would ultimately prove that the tech companies “are government actors” and that “therefore, the First Amendment does apply” — i.e., it requires them to permit freedom of speech without censorship that is supposedly rooted in a desire to stop “misinformation.”

Footnotes

  1. In March 2020, Twitter deleted David Clarke tweets about the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to contain it that deviated from the company’s party line. “It is now evident that this is an orchestrated attempt to destroy CAPITALISM,” Clarke wrote in one of the censored tweets. “First sports, then schools and finally commercial businesses. Time to RISE UP and push back. Bars and restaurants should defy the order. Let people decide if they want to go out.” In another banned tweet, Clarke wrote that he was tiring of being urged “to err on the side of caution” and referred to COVID-19 as the “DAMN FLU.”
  2. On February 10, 2021, Twitter CFO Ned Sagal said that the ban on Trump would be permanent: “If you are removed from the platform, you are removed from the platform, whether you’re a commentator, you’re a CFO, or whether you are a former or current public official.
  3. Glenn Greenwald provides details of the sequence of events surrounding the Google-Apple-Amazon attack on Parler:“The united Silicon Valley attack began on January 8, when Apple emailed Parler and gave them 24 hours to prove they had changed their moderation practices or else face removal from their App Store. The letter claimed: ‘We have received numerous complaints regarding objectionable content in your Parler service, accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 that led (among other things) to loss of life, numerous injuries, and the destruction of property.’ It ended with this warning:“To ensure there is no interruption of the availability of your app on the App Store, please submit an update and the requested moderation improvement plan within 24 hours of the date of this message. If we do not receive an update compliant with the App Store Review Guidelines and the requested moderation improvement plan in writing within 24 hours, your app will be removed from the App Store.“The 24-hour letter was an obvious pretext and purely performative. Removal was a fait accompli no matter what Parler did. To begin with, the letter was immediately leaked to Buzzfeed, which published it in full. A Parler executive detailed the company’s unsuccessful attempts to communicate with Apple. ‘They basically ghosted us,’ he told me. The next day, Apple notified Parler of its removal from App Store. ‘We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content,’ said the world’s richest company, and thus: ‘We have now rejected your app for the App Store.’“It is hard to overstate the harm to a platform from being removed from the App Store. Users of iPhones are barred from downloading apps onto their devices from the internet. If an app is not on the App Store, it cannot be used on the iPhone. Even iPhone users who have already downloaded Parler will lose the ability to receive updates, which will shortly render the platform both unmanageable and unsafe….“Shortly thereafter, Parler learned that Google, without warning, had also ‘suspended‘ it from its Play Store, severely limiting the ability of users to download Parler onto Android phones. Google’s actions also meant that those using Parler on their Android phones would no longer receive necessary functionality and security updates….“The day after a united Apple and Google acted against Parler, Amazon delivered the fatal blow. The company founded and run by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, used virtually identical language as Apple to inform Parler that its web hosting service (AWS) was terminating Parler’s ability to have AWS host its site: “Because Parler cannot comply with our terms of service and poses a very real risk to public safety, we plan to suspend Parler’s account effective Sunday, January 10th, at 11:59PM PST.” Because Amazon is such a dominant force in web hosting, Parler [for several weeks] disappeared not only from app stores and phones but also from the internet.“On [January 7], Parler was the most popular app in the United States. By [January 11], three of the four Silicon Valley monopolies united to destroy it.”

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