A major question surrounding Elon Musk’s release of internal Twitter documents about content moderation decisions is whether government officials had any role in pushing the platform to censor.
Screenshots released late Thursday of Twitter “blacklisting” conservative accounts and executives directly engaging in content moderation caused an outraged reaction from the Right. A critical question regarding possible repercussions for Twitter and the executives in question, though, is whether government officials encouraged Twitter to take down specific posts or accounts. The information released so far by Musk and his allies does not include evidence of such activity.
“We already know the federal government had a hand in Twitter censorship, especially of those who articulated perspectives that conflicted with government messaging on Covid,” New Civil Liberties Alliance Counsel Jenin Younes told the Washington Examiner in an email statement. “As Elon Musk exposes further information about Twitter’s inner workings, we anticipate learning more about the extent of government involvement in blacklisting those who express disfavored views.”
The blacklists “could be seen as a free speech concern if any of it is related to requests made by the U.S. government or violated Twitter’s own terms of service,” Irina Tsukerman, an analyst at the media and strategic advisory firm Scarab Rising, told the Washington Examiner.
The Alliance cited Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s statements in March demanding that Big Tech companies hand over all relevant information related to “COVID-19 misinformation” as evidence of cooperation between Big Tech and the Biden administration.
Conservatives have alleged that the federal government played a role in Twitter’s decision to pull down a New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop. Journalist Matt Taibbi addressed this in the first edition of the Twitter Files, in which he reported no evidence that government officials had been involved in the decision beyond “vague warnings” provided by the FBI about foreign actors.
While the first two entries in the Twitter Files have not provided evidence of government involvement, conservatives are hopeful since Taibbi and Weiss have promised additional releases in the coming days and weeks.
Twitter had previously spoken with White House officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the pandemic to discuss “vaccine misinformation,” according to communications revealed by an NCLA lawsuit. Twitter was also sued in December 2021 by journalist and vaccine critic Alex Berenson, who alleged that communications between Twitter and the White House led to his permanent suspension on the platform. Berenson settled the suit with Twitter and had his account reinstated in August.