Twitter Files Part 8: Platform ‘Directly Assisted’ US Military’s Influence Operations
Investigative journalist Lee Fang released the eighth edition of the “Twitter Files” on Tuesday, spotlighting how the social media juggernaut “quietly aided the Pentagon’s covert online PsyOp campaign.”
“Despite promises to shut down covert government propaganda networks, Twitter documents show the social media giant directly assisted the US military’s influence operations,” Fang wrote to begin the lengthy thread detailing the company’s role in an alleged online psychological operation aimed at shaping opinion in the Middle East and beyond.
Elon Musk had been vocal about being transparent when it comes to Twitter’s past and present actions curate content on the platform, including censored content. The Twitter owner has enlisted journalists to slowly release evidence of those actions in a series called “The Twitter Files” that continue to reveal once-secret communications.
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Fang revealed that he was “given access to Twitter for a few days” but did not sign or accept anything specific. He added that Twitter “had no input” into his reporting, but searches were conducted by a Twitter lawyer so that what he saw could be narrowed down.
The viral thread explained that Twitter “has claimed for years that it makes a concerted effort to detect” and “thwart government-sponsored platform manipulation,” including in testimony to Congress, but findings suggest that is not the case.
“[B]behind the scenes, Twitter gave approval and special protection to the US military’s online psychological influence operations. Despite knowledge that Pentagon propaganda accounts were using hidden identities, Twitter did not suspend many for about 2 years or more. Some remain active,” Fang wrote.
Fang’s examples included a 2017 email from US Central Command that listed 52 Arabic-language accounts it used to “amplify certain messages.” Twitter is said to have helped give the accounts extra visibility and made them exempt from spam and abuse flags.
The accounts, which tweeted about “US military priorities in the Middle East,” were initially openly associated with the government, but the relationship was eventually hidden from users, according to Fang.
“CENTCOM subsequently changed strategies and deleted disclosures of ties to the Twitter accounts,” Fang wrote. “A Twitter official who spoke to me said he feels cheated by the covert shift. Yet numerous emails from throughout 2020 show that senior Twitter executives were well aware of the DoD’s vast network of fake accounts and covert propaganda and did not suspend the accounts.”
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On Monday, the seventh edition of the “Twitter Files” delved into how the FBI and the intelligence community “discredited factual information about Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings.”
Independent writer Michael Shellenberger exposed what he called an “influence campaign” by the FBI that ultimately “worked” when Twitter censored Hunter Biden’s scandalous laptop.
Journalist Matt Taibbi went viral with the first installment in early December with his “Twitter Files” focusing on Twitter’s internal discussions that led to it censoring the Hunter Biden laptop story during the 2020 presidential election, with some officials struggling to explain how it violated the “hacked” materials” policy.
It was later revealed that the first batch of “Twitter files” were investigated without Musk’s knowledge by Jim Baker, who previously served as the FBI’s general counsel and was involved in the Russia probe, but worked for Twitter ahead of the 2020 election. involved. Musk fired Baker shortly after.
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Fang continued to spotlight Baker in the eighth episode of “Twitter Files.”
Fang also shared emails from other Twitter lawyers and executives, including speculation that the Pentagon wanted to retroactively classify its social media activities “to avoid embarrassment.”
“In several other 2020 emails, high-level Twitter executives/lawyers discussed the covert network and even recycled the 2017 list from CENTCOM and shared another list of 157 undisclosed Pentagon accounts, again mostly focused on military issues in the Middle East,” Fang wrote.
“Many of these secretive US military propaganda accounts, despite being discovered by Twitter as late as 2020 (but potentially earlier), continued to tweet throughout this year, some not being suspended until May 2022 or later, according to records I’ve reviewed, ” wrote Fang.
Fang noted: “In August 2022, a Stanford Internet Observatory report exposed a US military covert propaganda network on Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and other apps using fake news portals and deep fake photos and memes against US foreign adversaries,” including Russia, China and Iran.
He was able to confirm that Stanford correctly identified one from CENTCOM’s 2017 email.
“In subsequent reporting, Twitter was cast as an unbiased hero in removing “a network of fake user accounts promoting pro-Western political positions.” Media covering the story described Twitter as consistently enforcing its policies and proactive in suspending DoD- network,” Fang wrote. “The reality is much murkier. Twitter actively aided CENTCOM’s network back in 2017 and as late as 2020 knew these accounts were hidden/designed to deceive to manipulate discourse, a violation of Twitter’s policies and promises. They waited for years with suspending.”
Fang wrote that “Twitter’s communications team was in close contact with reporters, working to minimize Twitter’s role” throughout the process.
“The behavior of the US military’s secret network stands in stark contrast to how Twitter has boasted of quickly identifying and taking down secret accounts linked to state-sponsored influence operations, including Thailand, Russia, Venezuela and others since 2016,” Fang wrote.
Fang ended the thread with a link to a piece he wrote for The Intercept that has “more detail” about Twitter’s relationship with “government-backed covert propaganda campaigns.”
In The Intercept article, he wrote that Twitter “provided direct approval and internal protection to the US military’s network of social media accounts and online personas, whitelisting a group of accounts at the request of the government” and the Pentagon “has used this network, which includes US government-generated news portals and memes, in an attempt to shape public opinion in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait and beyond.”
Twitter has been helping the Pentagon directly for at least five years, according to Fang.
The second batch of Twitter files previously published by Weiss revealed Twitter’s “blacklist” of prominent conservatives, including Fox News host Dan Bongino, Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, as well as Stanford University’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a longtime opponent of COVID groupthink during pandemic that expressed opposition to lockdowns.
Internal communications also reveal Twitter employees admitting that popular account Libs of TikTok never violated its “hateful behavior” policy, despite being penalized multiple times for allegedly doing so.
These revelations appear to contradict what former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told Congress in 2018, saying under oath that Twitter did not censor or shadow conservatives.
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The third, fourth, and fifth installments of the “Twitter Files” focused on the permanent suspension of former President Trump around the January 2021 Capitol riot events. Taibbi reported how Twitter circulated election-related tweets from various users prior to the 2020 election that were “flagged” by FBI as problematic.
Part six of the “Twitter Files” spotlighted Twitter’s close ties to the FBI. Taibbi alleged that the law enforcement agency acted as a “subsidiary” of the tech giant revealing communications that showed the FBI, as many as 80 agents, systemically flagged Twitter users for tweets that included “potentially offensive content” related to the election.
In response to the “Twitter Files,” an FBI spokesperson told Fox News Digital, “The FBI regularly engages with private sector entities to provide information specific to identified foreign malign actors’ subversive, undeclared, covert, or criminal activities. Private. sector entities make independent decisions about what, if any, actions they take on their platforms and for their customers after the FBI notifies them.”
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.
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