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FBI flagged so many tweets, Twitter execs had to find a way to process stream of requests

Many flags weren't based on foreign influence operations, but domestic tweets from US citizens.

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The latest Twitter Files revelations started off with independent journalist Matt Taibbi discussing the FBI’s response to the first batches of Twitter disclosures.

“It didn’t refute allegations. Instead, it decried ‘conspiracy theorists’ publishing ‘misinformation,’ whose ‘sole aim’ is to ‘discredit the agency,’” Taibbi wrote, referencing the way the FBI dismissed censorship allegations as a conspiracy theory.

The latest batch of revelations implicate more government agencies than the FBI. In fact, the latest disclosure from Twitter, which came on Christmas Eve, suggested that the FBI acted as a “doorman to the vast program of social media surveillance and censorship.” Taibbi alleged that more government agencies were involved – from the “State Department to the Pentagon to the CIA.”

Taibbi alleged that the process is “far bigger than the reported 80 members of the Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF),” that was referred to in previous disclosures. Taibbi said that Twitter worked with so many agencies that the executives at the company “lost track.”

“Is today the DOD, and tomorrow the FBI? Is it the weekly call, or the monthly meeting? It was dizzying,” Taibbi wrote.

The disclosures state that “thousands of official ‘reports’ flowed to Twitter from all over, through the FITF and the FBI’s San Francisco field office.”

According to Taibbi, on June 29th, 2020, San Francisco FBI agent Elvis Chan wrote to Twitter executives, asking if he could invite an “OGA” to an upcoming conference. Taibbi stated that OGA stands for “Other Government Organization” and can be a euphemism for the CIA.

“‘Other Government Agency (the place where I worked for 27 years),’ said retired CIA officer Ray McGovern.”

Taibbi said that it was an “open secret” at Twitter that one of its executives was ex-CIA, which is why Chan referred to that executive’s “former employer.”

“I invited the FBI and the CIA virtually will attend too,” Senior legal executive Stacia Cardille said to Twitter lawyer Jim Baker (former FBI).”

When the FBI first responded to the Twitter revelations, its statement focussed on the idea that it was only interested in foreign influence operations. However, the latest revelations show how the FBI moved away from that to domestic content moderation; “from state governments, even local police,” Taibbi added.

“Many requests arrived via Teleporter, a one-way platform in which many communications were timed to vanish,” Taibbi revealed.

“Especially as the election approached in 2020, the FITF/FBI overwhelmed Twitter with requests, sending lists of hundreds of problem accounts,” the disclosures revealed. “Email after email came from the San Francisco office heading into the election, often adorned with an Excel attachment.”

Taibbi showed that there were so many government requests, “Twitter employees had to improvise a system for prioritizing/triaging them” and that “The FBI was clearly tailoring searches to Twitter’s policies.”

The FBI almost always framed its censorship requests as pointing out a “possible terms of service violation,” even in the subject line.

Even former FBI-lawyer Jim Baker seemed confused at all the requests, writing: “Odd that they are searching for violations of our policies.”

The New York FBI office even sent requests for the “user IDs and handles” of a list of accounts named in a Daily Beast article.

The disclosures show that Twitter executives say they are “supportive” and “completely comfortable” in complying.

“It seemed to strike no one as strange that a ‘Foreign Influence’ task force was forwarding thousands of mostly domestic reports, along with the DHS, about the fringiest material,” Taibbi said.

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