A brand new season of the “Twitter Files” has been released and has revealed more information about the close connection between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the social media platform. You may remember from the last episode that the FBI identified certain accounts and asked their friendly accomplices at Twitter (before Musk took over) to take down these accounts.
In this episode, the collusion is detailed further. Journalist Matt Taibbi reveals some friction between FBI agent Elvis Chan and members of Twitter's top management.
In July 2020, Chan advised former cybersecurity director Yoel Roth that he should “expect written questions from the Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF),” an inter-agency group tasked with dealing with cyber-related security threats. Chan wrote: “I believe FITF would like a response ahead of our meeting the week of August 10th. It can be a written response, or we can set up a phone call. Whatever is easiest for you. I think you can tell from the nature of the questions, that there was quite a bit of discussion within the USIC to get clarifications from your company.”
Taibbi notes that the agents who wrote the questionnaire appeared to be “displeased” with Twitter for telling them in a press conference that it “had not observed much recent activity from official propaganda actors” on its platform. Chan said that “other sources” suggested that “state media actors are prolific users of social media.”
He then listed a number of questions that he wanted Twitter to address about the way it came to its conclusion that the “official propaganda actors” were “less active than other groups” on the platform. Also, the agent wanted to be informed of which actors they had included in their analysis. Chan also wanted to know what the company does to limit “the scope of your analysis of the domestic, scam, foreign state, official propaganda, and white supremacist actors.”
After receiving the Bureau's inquiries, Roth sent them to other executives, saying that he’d been “perplexed” by the agency's request. He noted that the questions appeared “more like something we'd get from a congressional committee” as opposed to the FBI.
Roth stated that he was “not comfortable” with the FBI asking for the information. “The idea of the FBI acting as conduit for the Intelligence Community is interesting, given that many agencies are barred from domestic operations,” Taibbi emphasized.
The executive suggested that the agency “get on the phone with Elvis ASAP and try to straighten this out” to ensure that the agency was aware that Twitter was not claiming that state propaganda was not a “thing” on the platform.
Taibbi then recounted how the Bureau issued a statement shortly after the last “Twitter Files” drop, claiming the agency “regularly engages with private sector entities to provide information specific to identified foreign malign influence actors' subversive, undeclared, covert, or criminal activities.”
The journalist said that his team has not observed any attention to international criminality or propaganda in the files it has examined. “Instead, we've mostly seen requests for moderation involving low-follower accounts belonging to ordinary Americans – and Billy Baldwin.”
This last aspect sparked outrage among those who were worried about Twitter's partnership with an agency of the federal government. It was not clear that the FBI was focusing on criminal or international threats. Instead, it appeared as if it was determined to target American accounts that expressed opinions that the agency was not in agreement with.
In the wake of this latest leak of data, it's more evident that the Bureau was engaged in questionable actions here – pushing the limits of First Amendment restrictions by the government. It dedicated over 60 agents to this endeavor, which meant taxpayers were funding what appears to have been a politically motivated initiative rather than an effort to protect national security. This story was more damaging than the one before it. There is likely to be more to be revealed in the future.