Twitter and the 2020 US elections – RT in French

Ahead of the 2020 US presidential election, Twitter rolled out a number of tools to contain the reach of certain posts. American journalist Matt Taibbi has published a new salvo of revelations on this subject.

In the wake of recent revelations about the functioning of Twitter before its takeover by Elon Musk, the American journalist Matt Taibbi published a long series of tweets on December 9 in which are revealed internal exchanges between senior decision-makers of the company during the period of the last American elections.

The excerpts from several conversations thus shed light on the political choices of some of these senior officials of the Californian firm, visibly determined to contain the influence of the outgoing Republican President, Donald Trump. As a reminder, he was banned from Twitter in January 2021 (in the wake of the events on Capitol Hill), before his account was finally reactivated at the end of 2022 on the platform, now owned by Elon Musk.

As Matt Taibbi intends to demonstrate, the deletion of the account of the 45th President of the United States would have been approved following “an erosion of standards within the company during the months leading up to the 6 [janvier]”. In his latest thread of revelations, the journalist indeed points to a succession of “decisions by senior executives who violated their own policies” in the context of “continued interaction with federal agencies”.

I’m not sure we should portray the FBI and DHS as experts

Regarding the collaboration between Twitter and American intelligence supposed to help the social network fight against false information, we see in particular how, at the end of 2020, Nick Pickles, senior manager of the strategy of the blue bird, thinks about how to publicly qualify the links that his company maintains with the FBI and the DHS (the American Department of Homeland Security, created in 2001 under the administration of George W. Bush). Addressing one of his colleagues, Nick Pickles wondered, for example, about the use of the term “partnerships”, before making this remark: “I am not sure that we should describe the FBI and the DHS as experts.”

In addition to the porosity pointed out here between federal agencies and the social network, the latter seems to have evolved under the influence of the political considerations of several senior officials, whose decisions have sometimes led to bias in the strict application of the rules of good conduct developed by the platform.

Hit hard

Exchanges that took place in certain chat loops revealed today by Matt Taibbi show, for example, how senior Twitter decision-makers decided to harm certain accounts outraged by the progressive censorship applied to Donald Trump. It was thus decided to “hit hard” the official account of the American actor James Woods supporting Donald Trump, after one of his publications in which he denounced the label applied by the social network to a tweet from the ex-president. republican.

Other exchanges show that the senior officials in question were however more cautious for other accounts so as not to obtain counterproductive effects. “We have already provoked enough bears”, can we for example read during a debate on the censorship to apply, or not, to a satirical publication. Discussion during which some estimate that “moderation” on humor should apply whenever a joke could lead to “confusion”…

A gentle intervention

“I think I would rather lean towards a soft intervention”, still slices the official Yoel Roth about an October 2020 tweet from the elected Republican Jody Hice, in which he expressed his will to oppose censorship in the information technology industry. “I think going too far down the tunnel of labeling critical speech is dangerous, it becomes a self-reinforcing cycle of ‘wow censorship’,” the senior Twitter executive also wrote.

Matt Taibbi notes that, simultaneously with the efforts made by Twitter against what the company described as false information relating to an alleged rigging of the presidential election which would be favorable to the Democratic camp (a thesis in particular defended by the outgoing president), the network social has shown itself to be much more lenient towards publications advancing the opposite thesis, namely the denunciation of an alleged attempt to rig the elections on the part of Donald Trump.

As the American journalist demonstrates, tweets on this subject have been approved by the platform’s senior executives, who here judged that Internet users were simply expressing “their concern that the mail-in ballots might not arrive at time”.

From the creation of robots allowing automatic censorship of publications to the implementation of tools affecting the visibility of certain accounts, Matt Taibbi published nearly 70 tweets in this new burst of revelations on the underside of the moderation policy initiated in recent years via Twitter.

“The important thing is that [ces révélations] show that Twitter, in 2020 at least, was deploying a wide range of visible and invisible tools to curb Trump’s engagement, long before January 6. The prohibition will come after the exhaustion of the other ways”, note the American journalist who has already announced the imminent arrival of other revelations.

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