WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Wednesday summoned former Twitter executives to answer to accusations that the social media platform has tried to silence voices on the right, but the hourslong hearing yielded new revelations about how the company failed to limit hateful speech or material that could incite violence, sometimes altering its own rules to avoid doing so.
The Oversight and Accountability Committee called the hearing to investigate a decision that the company has for years admitted was a mistake: blocking an unsubstantiated New York Post article about the activities of Hunter Biden, President Biden’s son, in Ukraine before the 2020 election, in which his father was running against President Donald J. Trump.
“Twitter aggressively suppressed conservative elected officials, journalists and activists,” said Representative James R. Comer, Republican of Kentucky and the chairman of the oversight panel.
But the session also served as a forum for Democrats to press their concerns about the behavior of the company. They have accused Twitter of playing a critical role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, including by changing internal rules to allow Mr. Trump to keep posting up until the riot.
“Twitter and other social media companies acted as central organizing and staging grounds for the Jan. 6 violent insurrection against Congress and the vice president,” said Representative 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 hearing:
Mr. Trump tried to get the model Chrissy Teigen censored for insulting him.
Anika Collier Navaroli, a former Twitter executive who was a whistle-blower during the Jan. 6 investigation, recalled an incident from 2019 when a White House official tried to persuade the company to delete a tweet by the model Chrissy Teigen. She had insulted Mr. Trump in vulgar terms after he referred to her as “filthy-mouthed.”
Ms. Teigen tweeted that Mr. Trump was a “pussy ass bitch” who had avoided tagging her in his disparaging post. “An honor, mister president,” she added.
Ms. Navaroli testified that the White House reached out to Twitter about deleting Ms. Teigen’s post.
“They wanted it to come down because it was a derogatory statement directed at the president,” she said.
Ms. Navaroli added that Twitter often evaluated tweets to see if they contained more than three insults before judging that they had crossed the line into abuse. Twitter declined to delete Ms. Teigen’s tweet.
Twitter changed internal rules to avoid limiting Mr. Trump’s tweets.
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 the company’s rules. Among them were posts that denigrated a group of liberal congresswomen of color known as “the Squad.”
In 2019, when one of Mr. Trump’s tweets called for the lawmakers to “go and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” Ms. Navaroli’s team said it violated an internal Twitter rule that prohibited the demonization of immigrants and the phrase “go back to where you came from.”
But when she flagged the violation, Ms. Navaroli testified, a Twitter executive rebuffed her. Shortly thereafter, the company changed its policy to remove the phrase “go back to where you came from” from its internal rules on prohibited speech, she said.
“So Twitter changed their own policy after the president violated it in order to potentially accommodate his tweet?” asked Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York and the highest-profile member of the Squad.
“Yes,” Ms. Navaroli replied.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez responded, “So much for bias against right wing on Twitter.”
Twitter could have done more to prevent the Jan. 6 attack.
Ms. Navaroli testified that she was at her “wit’s end” when Twitter executives refused to intervene as Mr. Trump’s rhetoric was escalating before Jan. 6.
Her team created a “Coded Incitement to Violence” policy to censor accounts, but Twitter executives declined to approve it, she said.
“On Jan. 5, with the policy still not approved, I led a meeting where one of my colleagues asked management whether someone was going to have to get shot before we would be allowed to take down tweets,” she testified. “Another colleague looked up live tweets and read them to management to try to convince them of the seriousness of the issue. Still no action was taken.”
After Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol and injured more than 150 police officers, Ms. Navaroli asked management “whether they wanted more blood on their hands.”
Former Twitter executives denied that the F.B.I. had directed them to block the New York Post article.
The former chief executive of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, has already conceded to Congress that the company was wrong when it banned the Post article, and the former executives testifying on Wednesday once again stated that the company should not have done so.
But the former executives testified that while the decision was in part a reaction to F.B.I. warnings about possible Russian misinformation, the government had not directly pressured the social media platform to block the article, a central accusation leveled by Republicans.
“I am aware of no unlawful collusion with, or direction from, any government agency or political campaign on how Twitter should have handled the Hunter Biden laptop situation,” testified James Baker, Twitter’s former deputy general counsel.
Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he believed Twitter executives had been looking for a reason to censor the article before the election because they were biased. He cited a tweet from one executive that compared members of the Trump administration to “Nazis.”
“I think you guys got played,” Mr. Jordan said, adding: “I think you guys wanted to take it down. I think you guys got played by the F.B.I.”
A Twitter executive had to move because of threats.
Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, testified that he had to sell his home and move after becoming the target of online harassment.
Mr. Roth resigned from Twitter in the weeks after Elon Musk purchased the company in October. After he wrote an opinion column for The New York Times that criticized Mr. Musk’s strategy, his internal emails became the focus of the so-called Twitter Files, a series of media reports based on Twitter documents that Mr. Musk instructed the company to provide to several journalists.
The Twitter Files releases suggested that the platform took advice from the F.B.I. and other government officials regarding content moderation issues, and led to online harassment of Mr. Roth.
Other former Twitter employees also had their personal information shared online during the release of the Twitter Files, Mr. Roth said, leading to more harassment.
“Those are the consequences of this kind of harassment and speech,” he said.
Luke Broadwater reported from Washington, and Kate Conger from San Francisco.
Source : https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/08/us/politics/twitter-congressional-hearing.html