Twitter Files: U.S. Taxpayers ‘Unwittingly Financing the Growth and Power of a Censorship-Industrial Complex’ By Michael Nevradakis, Ph.D.

The latest “Twitter files,” published Thursday by investigative journalist Matt Taibbi, reveal how the federal government weaponized private companies, taxpayer-funded non-governmental organizations and commercial news media to target social media accounts disseminating content that ran counter to official narratives.

The latest “Twitter files,” published Thursday by investigative journalist Matt Taibbi reveal how the federal government weaponized private companies, taxpayer-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — and even commercial news media — to target social media accounts disseminating content that ran counter to official narratives.

The files — dubbed the “Censorship-Industrial Complex” — confirm that the U.S. government sought, indirectly and via private intermediaries, to have “misinformation,” “disinformation” and “malinformation” removed from Twitter and other social media platforms.

The revelations revealed how NGOs, working with the federal government, sought to censor social media content about COVID-19 vaccine injuries that was truthful, on the basis that it encouraged “vaccine hesitancy.”

These revelations came on the same day that the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government heard testimony about the revelations contained within the “Twitter files.”

Taibbi testified at Thursday’s hearing, as did author Michael Shellenberger, who has contributed to prior “Twitter files” releases.

Private actors, including media, sought removal of ‘true’ content

According to Taibbi, the bulk of censorship requests didn’t come directly from the government, but rather through a wide array of non-governmental actors who “partnered” with Twitter.

This “Censorship-Industrial Complex,” said Taibbi, included NGOs and “an unexpectedly aggressive partner, commercial news media,” which worked together with “state agencies like DHS [U.S. Department of Homeland Security], FBI, or the Global Engagement Center (GEC)” — an arm of the U.S. State Department.


According to Taibbi, the NGOs included the National Endowment for Democracy, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) and Hamilton 68’s creator, the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

“NGOs ideally serve as a check on corporations and the government,” Taibbi wrote. “Not long ago, most of these institutions viewed themselves that way,” but now they act as “effectively one team” with intelligence officials.


Taibbi noted that efforts by prominent NGOs and private media outlets extended beyond attempts to censor narratives surrounding COVID-19, including vaccines and those injured by them, to requests to remove — or “deplatform” — the accounts disseminating such content.

In one instance, Hannah Murphy, a technology correspondent with Financial Times, contacted Twitter, giving the platform “until end of day” to provide a “steer” regarding whether the accounts of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., chairman and chief litigation counsel of Children’s Health Defense, and other members of the so-called “Disinformation Dozen,” would be removed.


NewsGuard is a “fact-checking” organization that partners with major social media platforms and the World Health Organization, and which has received significant funding from Big Pharma.

NewsGuard also partners with the Center for Countering Digital Hate, the author of “The Disinformation Dozen.”

‘American taxpayers funding their own estrangement from reality’

Taibbi described the Stanford Internet Observatory’s “Election Integrity Partnership” (EIP) — renamed the Virality Project after the 2020 U.S. election — as “perhaps the ultimate example of the absolute fusion of state, corporate, and civil society organizations” and as “among the most voluminous ‘flaggers’ in the #TwitterFiles.”

Upon relaunching, the Virality Project, was “on-boarded” to an internal Twitter ticketing system, said Taibbi, “absorbing this government proxy into Twitter infrastructure.”


The Virality Project recommended “multiple platforms take action even against ‘stories of true vaccine side effects’ and ‘true posts which could fuel hesitancy.’”

As previously reported by The Defender, the Virality Project developed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Rumor Control,” which claims to fight online “misinformation” and “disinformation” about COVID-19 vaccines.


EIP’s research managerRenee DiResta, who previously worked for the CIA, described how her entity is filling “gaps” in enforcing what federal government legally cannot, alongside “tech partners” such as Google, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter, under “remove, reduce, or inform” policies.

EIP claimed it succeeded in getting 22 million tweets labeled prior to the 2020 U.S. elections.

New Knowledge, an organization DiResta founded, “helped design the Hamilton 68 project,” which targeted “Americans like ‘Ultra Maga Dog Mom,’ ‘Right2Liberty,’ a British rugby player named Rob Bishop” and “people who used the term ‘deep state.’”

Another DiResta initiative, Project Birmingham, appears to have created fake “Russian bots,” which then followed political candidates, such as Alabama’s Roy Moore in 2017. Moore was then accused of having Russian support for his U.S. Senate candidacy.

“This is the Censorship-Industrial Complex at its essence: a bureaucracy willing to sacrifice factual truth in service of broader narrative objectives,” said Taibbi. “It’s the opposite of what a free press does.”

“Packaged as a bulwark against lies and falsehood, it is itself often a major source of disinformation, with American taxpayers funding their own estrangement from reality,” Taibbi added.


‘Do we want government in this role?’

Thursday’s “Twitter files” release also emphasized the taxpayer funding received by the NGOs removing content at the U.S. government’s behest.

“Though the state is supposed to stay out [of] domestic propaganda, the Aspen Institute, Graphika, the DFRLab, New America, and other ‘anti-disinformation’ labs are receiving huge public awards,” Taibbi wrote.

According to Taibbi, the Aspen Institute is taxpayer-funded, receiving “millions a year from both the State Department and USAID” — the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“Do we want government in this role?” Taibbi asked.

One example, described by Taibbi as the “Woodstock of the Censorship-Industrial Complex” was the release of the Aspen Institute’s “Information Disorder” report in August 2021, in a “star-studded confab” that included media personalities, social media executives, representatives of federal agencies and even royalty.

The report’s “taxpayer-backed conclusions” recommended that “the state should have total access to data to make searching speech easier,” the placement of “speech offenders” in a “holding area” and the governmental restriction of “disinformation,” “even if it means losing freedom.”

The Aspen report recommended that “the power to mandate data disclosure be given to the FTC” (Federal Trade Commission). Taibbi noted that the FTC was “just caught” by the House Judiciary Committee “in a clear abuse of office, demanding information from Twitter about communications with (and identities of) #TwitterFiles reporters.”


In another example, Taibbi said:

“Some NGOs, like the GEC-funded Global Disinformation Index or the DOD-funded NewsGuard, not only seek content moderation but apply subjective ‘risk’ or ‘reliability’ scores to media outlets, which can result in reduction in revenue.”

Aside from its “partnerships” with NGOs, Taibbi described how Twitter directly acted as “a partner to government,” holding regular “industry meetings” with the FBI and the DHS and developing “a formal system for receiving thousands of content reports from every corner of government.”

Taibbi said the HHS, U.S. Treasury, National Security Agency and local police departments submitted content reports to Twitter.

Taibbi tweeted:


Some of these tweets contained “obvious ‘misinformation,’ like accounts urging people to vote the day after an election.” But other reports “had shakier reasoning,” Taibbi said.

Subcommittee addresses COVID-related censorship

The latest “Twitter files” release — and the subject matter of several of the previous releases — took center stage at Thursday’s Select Subcommittee Hearing on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.

Thursday’s hearing, the second held by the subcommittee, featured testimony by Taibbi and Shellenberger.

Thursday’s testimony also addressed the revelations regarding the Virality Project and its efforts to remove factually true tweets about COVID-19 vaccines.

According to Taibbi, the Virality Project “used the word ‘true’ three times” in its document, in reference to “people telling their own stories of true vaccine side effects.”

“So these are people who are telling about their own experiences, things that happened to them that are true, and they’re being suppressed,” Taibbi said.


Shellenberger said, “This is very disturbing, because what they’re doing when they’re putting these labels on … is trying to discredit you. It’s a form of censorship, but it’s also a disinformation campaign.”

The Defender previously reported the stories of several vaccine injury victims whose posts containing information about their vaccine injuries were censored by social media platforms.


The hearing also addressed previous revelations that the Biden administration sought to censor Kennedy’s Jan. 22, 2021, tweet about the then-recent death of baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, 18 days after he publicly received the Moderna vaccine.

Subcommittee chair Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) entered Kennedy’s tweet into the record, “along with the statement from the White House, the Biden White House, two days into the administration when they’re directly attacking people’s First Amendment liberties.”


Rep. Thomas Massey (R-Ky.) addressed previous efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to censor tweets about natural immunity to COVID-19 — just days before federal and military vaccine mandates were introduced.

And in his testimony, Shellenberger referred to Twitter’s placement of Jay Bhattacharya, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine at Stanford University and co-author of the “Great Barrington Declaration,” on a blacklist because he tweeted that children would be harmed by lockdowns.

By blacklisting Bhattacharya — without his knowledge — Twitter prevented his tweets from trending.

During Thursday’s hearing, Shellenberger said he has been similarly censored by Facebook, and described Bhattacharya’s blacklisting as “East Germany, Stasi kind of behavior” and an example of an “Overton window,” where speech is limited to “what is mainstream at the time.”


‘Twitter files’ reveal ‘Digital McCarthyism’

Both Taibbi and Shellenberger warned of the dangers of government policing of speech and of government collusion with private actors for this purpose.

Shellenberger said:

“Today, American taxpayers are unwittingly financing the growth and power of a censorship-industrial complex run by America’s scientific and technological elite, which endangers our liberties and democracy.

“I’m grateful for this opportunity to offer this testimony and sound the alarm over the shocking and disturbing emergence of state-sponsored censorship in the United States of America.”

Taibbi said:

“The original promise of the internet was that it might democratize the exchange of information globally. A free internet would overwhelm all attempts to control information flow. Its very existence [is] a threat to anti-democratic forms of government everywhere.

“What we found in the [‘Twitter files’] was a sweeping effort to reverse that promise and use machine learning and other tools to turn the internet into an instrument of censorship and social control. Unfortunately, our own government appears to be playing a lead role.”


Shellenberger said the “Twitter files” and also lawsuits against the federal government “have revealed a large and growing network of government agencies, academic institutions and non-governmental organizations that are actively censoring American citizens, often without their knowledge, on a range of issues.”

“It is axiomatic that the government cannot do indirectly what it is prohibited from doing directly,” said Shellenberger in reference to the federal government’s use of private organizations as proxies for the removal of content from social media platforms.

Taibbi likened efforts to combat alleged “misinformation, disinformation or malinformation” as “a form of digital McCarthyism,” which has extended beyond social media platforms to the removal of individuals’ accounts on platforms such as PayPal and GoFundMe simply as a result of the content they shared on social media.

“It is important to understand how these groups function,” Shellenberger said. “They are not publicly engaging with their opponents in an open exchange of ideas. They aren’t asking for a national debate over the limits of the First Amendment.”

“Rather,” he said, “they are creating blacklists of disfavored people and then pressuring, cajoling, and demanding that social media platforms censor, deamplify, and even ban the people on these blacklists.”

Claiming the government is using methods of psychological manipulation and highly sophisticated computing tools, such as artificial intelligence, for these purposes, Shellenberger said that “populist, alternative and fringe” views are being targeted, simply based on “the assertion that the opinion you expressed … is wrong.”

According to Taibbi, voices across the political spectrum have been targeted:

“The people affected include Trump supporters, but also left-leaning sites like Consortium and Truthout, the leftist South American channel teleSUR [and] the Yellow Vest Movement.”

Shellenberger pointed out that in 2020, the Aspen Institute urged journalists to “break the Pentagon Papers principle,” previously held up as a paragon of investigative journalism, “and not cover leaked government information, to prevent the spread of ‘disinformation.’”

Shellenberger shared some proposals to the subcommittee, including:

“Congress should immediately cut off funding to the censors and investigate their activities. It should mandate instant reporting of all conversations between social media executives, government employees, and government contractors concerning content moderation.

“And finally, Congress should limit the broad permission given to social media platforms to censor, deplatform and spread propaganda.”

Taibbi said he was “horrified” by the media’s collusion with the government’s censorship efforts, saying it has become “an arm of a state-sponsored thought-policing system.”

He added:

“The First Amendment and American population accustomed to the right to speak is the best defense left against the Censorship-Industrial Complex. If it can knock over the first and most important constitutional guarantee, it will have no serious opponent left anywhere.

“If there’s anything the Twitter Files show, it’s that we’re in danger of losing this most precious right, without which all democratic rights are impossible.”

Witnesses attacked as ‘so-called journalists’

Thursday’s hearing was contentious at times, with Democratic members of the subcommittee asking the two witnesses to reveal their sources, accusing them of cherry-picking internal Twitter documents “out of context” and focusing only on the Biden administration.


One subcommittee member referred to the two witnesses as “so-called journalists” and “Elon Musk’s public scribes,” while Taibbi was referred to as “Elon Musk’s hand-picked journalist” who has “made money that [he] did not have before.”

Musk, owner and CEO of Twitter, was accused of working with countries such as “Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and possibly even Russia and China.”

Jordan, however, described the witnesses as “brave individuals for being willing to come,” adding, “I think they’re here to tell us the truth.”

On Thursday, concurrently with the hearing and the latest “Twitter files” release, the House narrowly passed a bill, the Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act, that will ban federal officials from pressuring tech platforms into censoring content.

According to The Hill, the bill would “would prohibit law enforcement officials from sharing information with social media companies unless it pertains to speech not protected by the First Amendment — such as obscenity, fraud or incitement to imminent lawless action.”


Michael Nevradakis, Ph.D., based in Athens, Greece, is a senior reporter for The Defender and part of the rotation of hosts for CHD.TV’s “Good Morning CHD.”

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