FBI agents communicated regularly with content moderators at Twitter, and frequently asked for tweets to be taken down for allegedly violating the platforms’ policies against election-related misinformation. The conversations were so numerous—including emails and weekly meetings—that a top Twitter staffer came to describe the relationship between the company and law enforcement as “government-industry sync.”
That’s according to the latest installment of the Twitter Files, which was released by independent journalist Matt Taibbi on Friday.
1. THREAD: The Twitter Files, Part Six
TWITTER, THE FBI SUBSIDIARY
— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) December 16, 2022
The FBI frequently recommended that content moderators look into specific tweets and take action against them if they violated misinformation policies. Many of these tweets were from users with very low follower counts who had engaged in satire or humor. The FBI flagged user Claire Foster, who had tweeted “I’m a ballot counter in my state. If you’re not wearing a mask, I’m not counting your vote. #safetyfirst” and “For every negative comment on this post I’m adding another vote for the democrats.”
These comments probably sound like satire to most people, but the FBI apparently thinks election integrity is no laughing matter. You would be forgiven for wondering whether top law enforcement officials have anything better to do with their time than police jokes on Twitter.
As with previous Twitter Files disclosures, it’s not that this information was totally unsuspected; it was already abundantly clear that government officials were in regular communication with social media companies and flagging content for moderation. But it’s useful to see the scale of that interaction as well as some specific examples. The extent to which Big Tech and Big Government are working in tandem to crack down on dissent, contrarianism, and even humor is frankly disturbing.
Social media companies have every right to moderate jokes if they really want to—and users can complain about the jokes or the moderation, of course—but the FBI’s role in all this raises the specter of a free speech violation, even if the government wasn’t literally forcing Twitter to take action. It is inappropriate for the FBI to report joke tweets to content moderators and take a what-are-you-doing-about-this tone. Social media companies might feel like they have little choice but to cooperate with law enforcement, given that political figures in both parties are constantly threatening to punish the platforms for making decisions that displease Republicans and Democrats.