Senior Twitter executives sought on January 7, 2021, the day after the Capitol riot, “to create justifications to ban Trump – seek a change of policy for Trump alone, distinct from other political leaders – express no concern for the free speech or democracy implications of a ban,” according to the fourth installment of the Twitter Files released Saturday night.
“For years, Twitter had resisted calls to ban Trump,” author Michael Shellenberger and journalist Leighton Woodhouse write, quoting the executives themselves: “‘Blocking a world leader from Twitter,’ it wrote in 2018, ‘would hide important info… [and] hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.'”
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Following the events of January 6, internal and external pressure on then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey began to grow, according to the report. Former first lady Michelle Obama and several other prominent individuals and groups called on Twitter to permanently ban the president.
Dorsey was vacationing in French Polynesia that week, according to the report, and phoned in to meetings, though he also delegated much of the duties handling the situation to senior executives Yoel Roth, Twitter’s Global Head of Trust and Safety, and Vijaya Gadde, head of Legal, Policy and Trust.
The report notes that Twitter’s staff and senior execuitves “were overwhelmingly progressive,” pointing out that in 2018, 2020, and 2022, 96%, 98%, & 99% of Twitter staff’s political donations went to Democrats.
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But the bias wass deeper than simply donating to Democrats. Roth tweeted in 2017 that there were “ACTUAL NAZIS IN THE WHITE HOUSE.” And this past April he told a colleague that “his goal ‘is to drive change in the world,’ which is why he decided not to become an academic.”
Dorsey seemed to want to treat Trump no differently than other users. On January 7, he emailed employees that Twitter should remain consistent in its policies, and that meant a right for users to return after temporary suspension. Roth disagreed, and told an employee that “people who care about this … aren’t happy with where we are.”
At about 11:30 a.m. PT, Roth sent a direct message to his colleagues: “GUESS WHAT. Jack just approved repeat offender for civic integrity. The change would enforce a permanent suspension after five violations, or “strikes.”
“Progress!” a member of Roth’s team shot back. “Does this affect our approach to Trump, who I think that we publicly said had one remaining strike? Or does the incitement to violence aspect change that calculus?”
“Trump continues to have just one strike (remaining),” Roth replied. “This is for everything else.”
“The exchange between Roth and his colleagues makes clear that they had been pushing @jack (Dorsey) for greater restrictions on the speech Twitter allows around elections,” Shellenberger writes.
“Roth’s colleague’s query about ‘incitement to violence’ heavily foreshadows what will happen the following day,” he adds, noting, “On January 8, Twitter announces a permanent ban on Trump due to the ‘risk of further incitement of violence.”
On January 8, the thread notes, Twitter said that its ban of Trump was based “specifically how [Trump’s tweets] are being received & interpreted.” But in 2019 Twitter had said it did “not attempt to determine all potential interpretations of the content or its intent.”
Shellenberger said the only serious concern they were able to find within Twitter over free speech and democracy over banning Trump was from a “junior person” and it was “tucked away in a lower-level Slack channel known as ‘site-integrity-auto.”
“This might be an unpopular opinion but one off ad hoc decisions like this that don’t appear rooted in policy are imho a slippery slope,” the person wrote. “This now appears to be a fiat by an online platform CEO with a global presence that can gatekeep speech for the entire world.”