Five takeaways from the GOP’s House hearing with former Twitter executives

Five takeaways from the GOP’s House hearing with former Twitter executives

Five takeaways from the GOP's House hearing with former Twitter executives

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WASHINGTON — House Republicans summoned former Twitter executives on Wednesday to respond to accusations that the social media platform tried to silence right-wing voices, but the hour-long hearing gave new revelations about how the company has failed to limit hate speech or material that could incite violence, sometimes changing its own rules to avoid doing so.


The Oversight and Accountability Committee convened the hearing to investigate a decision the company has admitted for years to be a mistake: Blocking an unsubstantiated New York Post story about the activities of Hunter Biden, the son of President Biden, in Ukraine ahead of the 2020 election, in which his father was running against President Donald J. Trump.

“Twitter has aggressively cracked down on elected conservatives, journalists and activists,” said Rep. James R. Comer, a Kentucky Republican and chairman of the oversight committee.

But the session also served as a forum for Democrats to raise concerns about the company’s behavior. They accused Twitter of playing a vital role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, including changing internal rules to allow Mr. Trump to continue posting until the riot.

“Twitter and other social media companies served as the central organizing and staging ground for the violent January 6 insurgency against Congress and the Vice President,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, who also served on the House Select committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack.

Here are some takeaways from the audience:

Anika Collier Navaroli, a former Twitter executive who was a whistleblower during the Jan. 6 investigation, recalled a 2019 incident when a White House official tried to persuade the company to delete a tweet from model Chrissy Teigen. . She had insulted Mr Trump in vulgar terms after he called her a “big mouth”.

Ms Teigen tweeted that Mr Trump was a “pussy ass bitch” who avoided tagging her in her disparaging post. “An honor, Mr. President,” she added.

Ms Navaroli said the White House had contacted Twitter about the removal of Ms Teigen’s post.

“They wanted it to go down because it was a derogatory statement directed at the president,” she said.

Ms Navaroli added that Twitter often assesses tweets to see if they contain more than three insults before judging they have crossed the line into abuse. Twitter refused to remove Ms Teigen’s tweet.

Ms. Navaroli also testified that Twitter changed its rules to avoid adding labels to some of Mr. Trump’s tweets that would have identified them as violating company rules. Among them were posts that disparaged a group of congressional liberal women of color known as “The Squad.”

In 2019, when one of Mr Trump’s tweets called on lawmakers to “go help fix the totally destroyed and crime infested places they came from”, Ms Navaroli’s team said they had violated an internal Twitter rule that prohibited the demonization of immigrants. and the phrase “go back where you came from”.

But when she reported the breach, Ms Navaroli testified, a Twitter executive pushed her away. Soon after, the company changed its policy to remove the phrase “go back where you came from” from its internal rules on prohibited speech, she said.

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“So Twitter changed its own policy after the president violated it in order to potentially accommodate his tweet?” asked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat and the team’s most prominent member.

“Yes,” replied Ms. Navaroli.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez replied: “So much for the anti-right bias on Twitter.”

Ms Navaroli testified she was on edge when Twitter executives refused to intervene as Mr Trump’s rhetoric escalated ahead of January 6.

Her team created a “coded incitement to violence” policy to censor accounts, but Twitter executives refused to endorse it, she said.

“On January 5, when the policy was still not approved, I led a meeting where a colleague of mine asked management if anyone was going to have to get shot before we were allowed to delete tweets,” she testified. “Another co-worker viewed live tweets and read them to management to try to convince them of the seriousness of the problem. Still no action has been taken.

After Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol and injured more than 150 police officers, Ms. Navaroli asked management “if they wanted more blood on their hands.”

Former Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey has already admitted to Congress that the company was wrong in banning the Post article, and former executives testifying Wednesday once again said the company would not have had to do it.

But the former executives testified that while the decision was partly a reaction to FBI warnings about possible Russian disinformation, the government did not directly pressure the social media platform to block the article, an accusation center carried by the Republicans.

“I am not aware of any unlawful collusion with, or direction from, any government agency or political campaign on how Twitter should have handled the Hunter Biden laptop situation,” said James Baker, former assistant general counsel at Twitter.

Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and Judiciary Committee Chairman, said he believed Twitter executives were looking for a reason to censor the article before the election because they were biased. He cited a tweet from an executive that compared members of the Trump administration to “Nazis.”

‘I think you played,’ said Mr Jordan, adding: ‘I think you wanted to take it out. I think you got screwed by the FBI’

Yoel Roth, former head of trust and safety at Twitter, said he had to sell his house and move out after being the target of online harassment.

Mr Roth quit Twitter in the weeks after Elon Musk took over the company in October. After writing an opinion column for the New York Times that criticized Mr. Musk’s strategy, his internal emails became the center of the so-called Twitter Files, a series of media reports based on Twitter documents that Mr. Musk asked the company to provide. to several journalists.

Statements from Twitter Files suggest the platform took advice from the FBI and other government officials regarding content moderation issues, and led to Mr Roth’s online harassment.

Other former Twitter employees also had their personal information shared online when posting the Twitter files, Roth said, leading to further harassment.

“These are the consequences of this kind of harassment and talk,” he said.

Luke Broadwater reported from Washington, and Kate Conger from San Francisco.


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