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FBI responds after revelations it flagged tweets for censorship

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Following the evidence that the FBI routinely flagged jokes and satirical content to be removed from Twitter, the FBI has responded.

“The FBI regularly engages with private sector entities to provide information specific to identified foreign malign influence actors’ subversive, undeclared, covert, or criminal activities,” the FBI said in a statement. “Private sector entities independently make decisions about what, if any, action they take on their platforms and for their customers after the FBI has notified them,” the agency added, without commenting on the fact that many of those targeted for censorship were US citizens.

The list of targeted accounts included Billy Baldwin, the brother of actors Alec and Stephen Baldwin, as well as several satire accounts and the conservative news outlet that covers many live broadcasts, the Right Side Broadcasting Network.

The latest batch of Twitter files, released by journalist Matt Taibbi, showed that between January 2020 and November 2022, former Twitter Senior Director of Trust & Safety, Yoel Roth, exchanged over 150 emails with the FBI.

Taibbi’s revelations showed that the FBI’s social media task force, known as FTIF, has 80 agents working to stop what they say is “foreign influence and election tampering of all kinds.”

Heritage Foundations’ senior legal fellow Hans von Spakovsky recently told Fox News that while Twitter is a private company that is free to censor content as it wishes, the company could be seen as an agent for the government if it is found to be taking direction from the FBI.

“The First Amendment applies to the government and prohibits censorship by government agencies and entities, not private actors,” Von Spakovsky said.

“However, when a private company is censoring information based on direction, coordination and cooperation with the government, then legally it may be considered to be acting as an agent for the government, and it may be found to be violating the First Amendment.”

George Mason University professor David Bernstein also weighed in on Fox News that “absent a true national security emergency, it’s inappropriate for anyone with a political role in the government to be exerting pressure or even lobbying Twitter regarding content.”

“The FBI is a trickier case,” he added. “If there is no political interference, the FBI sharing information with Twitter is not inherently inappropriate. For example, the FBI could share information that a Twitter account is linked to a known terrorist group. However, there is obviously a line between properly sharing information and a government agency unduly pressuring an agency, especially if there is a threat of retaliation attached. Without knowing more about exactly what the FBI was doing, I can’t say which side of the line it was on.”

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