Twitter banned then-President Trump from the platform just hours after site monitors found he had not violated the social media giant’s policy, prompting employees to accuse their colleagues of behaving “like Nazis following orders,” newly released documents show.
Elon Musk’s latest installment of the “Twitter Files,” rolled out by independent journalist Bari Weiss on Monday, reveals the behind-the-scenes chaos as a group of anti-Trump employees pressured top executives to oust the sitting president. The internal debate was waged just days after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol despite a lack of evidence that Mr. Trump had violated Twitter policy.
Mr. Trump had one “strike” remaining on his account before he would be permanently banned when, on Jan. 8, 2021, he posted an early morning tweet praising his supporters.
“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future,” the president tweeted at 6:46 a.m. “They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
He later posted: “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration [of President Biden] on January 20th.”
The seemingly innocuous posts, Ms. Weiss said, reignited a firestorm at Twitter.
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Employees took to internal chat rooms to demand Mr. Trump’s removal on grounds that he had committed his final strike by inciting violence with his early morning musings.
The Twitter employees accused Mr. Trump of using “coded language” and “threading the needle of incitement while not violating the rules.”
“That last sentence …,” wrote one employee. “We had to do the right thing here and ban this account.”
“Extraordinary circumstances demand extraordinary leadership,” wrote another.
Initial calls to ban the sitting president, however, were overruled by senior executives and site moderators, in keeping with Twitter’s long-standing policy against silencing world leaders.
“For years, Twitter had resisted calls both internal and external to ban Trump on the grounds that blocking a world leader from the platform or removing their controversial tweets would hide important information that people should be able to see and debate,” Ms. Weiss wrote. “Twitter’s aim was to ‘protect the public’s right to hear from their leaders and to hold them to account.’”
Moderators ruled that the president’s posts that morning did not violate policy.
“I think we’d have a hard time saying this is incitement,” one person wrote. “It’s pretty clear he’s saying the ‘American Patriots’ are the ones who voted for him and not the terrorist (we can call them that, right) from Wednesday.”
Twitter policy official Anika Navaroli wrote: “I also am not seeing a clear or coded incitement” in Mr. Trump’s tweet.
“I’ll respond in the elections channel and say that our team has assessed and found no [violations],” she wrote.
A few other employees raised concerns that banning the president would send the company, and potentially the country, down a dark path.
“Maybe because I am from China,” one employee wrote on Jan. 7, 2021, the day before Mr. Trump was banned for good. “I deeply understand how censorship can destroy the public conversation.”
“This might be an unpopular opinion but one-off ad hoc decisions like this that don’t appear rooted in policy are [in my opinion] a slippery slope …,” another junior employee wrote in an internal “site integrity” chat room. “This now appears to be a fiat by an online platform CEO with a global presence that can gatekeep speech for the entire world.”
Those concerns, however, were held by a small minority of employees, Ms. Weiss wrote.
“Across Slack channels, many Twitter employees were upset that Trump hadn’t been banned earlier,” she wrote.
The anti-Trump cacophony grew as the day progressed, although Mr. Trump had posted no additional tweets.
By the afternoon of Jan. 8, 300 employees had signed an open letter to then-CEO Jack Dorsey demanding that he oust Mr. Trump.
The Washington Post published a letter titled “We must examine Twitter’s complicity in what President-Elect Biden has rightly termed an insurrection.”
Others accused their colleagues of behaving like Nazis for not banning Mr. Trump.
“Multiple tweeps [Twitter employees] have quoted the Banality of Evil suggesting that people implementing our policies are like Nazis following orders,” Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, wrote to his colleague.
Twitter’s top lawyer, Vijaya Gadde, began to ask her staff to find some way to cite Mr. Trump with a violation.
“The biggest question is whether a tweet like the one this morning from Trump, which isn’t a rule violation on its face, is being used as coded incitement to further violence,” she said. “If you have any context or insight we should consider, I’m all ears.”
She added, “Eg use of term ‘American Patriots’ and ‘They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!’”
One employee responded that Ms. Gadde had presented an “interesting question.”
“I am going to speak with my team ASAP to see if we can run a quick survey to get reactions to the language continued in the tweet and get back to you,” the employee said.
Ms. Gadde responded that she worried about how relying on a survey in making the final decision would be perceived externally.
“Wondering if we have anything in past research that could be relevant,” she wrote.
Employees on the “scaled enforcement team” suggested minutes later that the president’s post violated the platform’s “Glorification of Violence Policy.”
“If we consider ‘American Patriots’ to refer to the rioters, they have a point,” one employee wrote.
Hours later, the company announced that Mr. Trump had been permanently banned “due to incitement of violence.”
Internal chat rooms at Twitter filled with cheers.
“Thank you everyone for your impactful work this week, for the discussion and for drafting all these complete assessments,” one employee wrote. “I am very proud to work and learn from you every day.”
“Big props to whoever in trust and safety is sitting there whack-a-mole-ing these Trump accounts,” another employee wrote.
Ms. Weiss’ Twitter Files release Monday marks the final installment of a three-part segment revealing what led to Mr. Trump’s ouster from the platform. It adds to revelations of Twitter’s liberal bent that led to the censorship of conservative viewpoints and the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story just weeks before the 2020 presidential election.
Mr. Musk’s first tranche of internal documents, released earlier this month, showed how Twitter executives worked to stifle the New York Post’s story about Hunter Biden’s laptop in October 2020.
He also has made public internal documents that showed Twitter maintained a suite of tools to silence conservative viewpoints from the platform, placing talk show hosts, activists and respected doctors on a blacklist to limit the visibility of their accounts.
The unrelenting drip of revelations, confirming a long-suspected push inside Twitter to silence contrarian and often conservative voices, has drawn backlash from across the political spectrum in Washington.
House Republicans have announced plans to summon former Twitter executives to get to the bottom of the revelations from the Twitter Files.
Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who will become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he intends to receive testimony from former Twitter executives and employees about the company’s blacklist of conservative accounts.
Republicans also are proposing a list of bills that would address social media censorship, including legislation that would remove liability protections for companies that censor constitutionally protected speech on their platforms.
Some Democrats also have raised alarms over Twitter’s censorship.
Rep. Ro Khanna, California Democrat, told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” that the company’s decision to censor the Hunter Biden laptop story “offended the basic principles that our country is based on.”
He said he is open to congressional hearings into the matter.
Since taking over Twitter, Mr. Musk has reinstated Mr. Trump’s account. The former president has not used it. He prefers to post comments on his Truth Social platform.
• Joseph Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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