INFOGRAPHIC: Key Revelations of the ‘Twitter
Files reveal how the government pressured the social media giant
into censoring a large number of accounts
By Petr Svab January 17, 2023 Updated: January 17, 2023biggersmaller
Documents revealed by Twitter’s new owner, tech billionaire Elon
Musk, show the social media company has been intertwined with a
government–private censorship apparatus.
Twitter suppressed or removed content on various subjects, including
irregularities in the 2020 elections, mail-in voting issues, and
various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company was under
government pressure to purge such content and its purveyors from the
platform, though most of the time it was cooperating with the
censorship requests willingly, the documents indicate.
INFOGRAPHIC (Click on image
to enlarge, or click here to download)
Musk took over Twitter in October, taking the company private. He
then fired around half of the staff and much of the upper
management, vowing to take Twitter in a new direction. The
“#TwitterFiles” releases have been part of his promised focus on
transparency for the company.
He allowed several independent journalists to submit search queries
that were then used by Twitter staff to search through the company’s
internal documents, sometimes under the condition that the resulting
stories would be first published on the platform itself.
The two journalists primarily responsible for the releases have been
journalists Matt Taibbi, a former contributing editor for Rolling
Stone magazine, and Bari Weiss, a former editor at both The New York
Times and The Wall Street Journal. Both are liberals who have
expressed disillusionment with the more extreme currents of
progressivism and neoliberalism.
Others involved in the releases have been independent journalists
Lee Fang and David Zweig, former New York Times reporter Alex
Berenson, and author and environmentalist Michael Shellenberger.
The journalists have only released a fraction of the documents they
reviewed. They’ve also redacted the names of employees involved,
aside from some high-level executives.
The documents show that the FBI and other state, local, and federal
agencies have been scrutinizing the political speech of Americans on
a significant scale, and trying to get lawful speech suppressed or
removed online. Many conservative and traditionally liberal
commentators have deemed that a violation of the First Amendment.
Epoch Times Photo
Elon Musk gives interviews as he arrives at the Offshore Northern
Seas 2022 meeting in Stavanger, Norway, on Aug. 29, 2022.
CARINA JOHANSEN/NTB/AFP via Getty Images
Twitter, a major hub of political speech, has been among the main
targets of censorship. Many news stories have broken on Twitter in
recent years, and a significant portion of the nation’s political
debate takes place on the platform, as it allows an efficient way
for direct and public interaction between users, from the most
prominent to the least.
Twitter resisted some censorship requests, but there was little sign
the company did so as a matter of principle. Rather, executives
sometimes couldn’t find a policy they could use as a justification.
Prior Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was under pressure from his
lieutenants to expand the policies to allow more thorough
censorship, the documents show.
“The hypothesis underlying much of what we’ve implemented is that if
exposure, e.g., misinformation directly causes harm, we should use
remediations that reduce exposure, and limiting the spread/virality
of content is a good way to do that (by just reducing prevalence
overall),” said Yoel Roth, then Twitter’s head of trust and safety,
which governs content policy, in a 2021 internal message published
“We got Jack on board with implementing this for civic integrity in
the near term, but we’re going to need to make a more robust case to
get this into our repertoire of policy remediations—especially for
other policy domains.”
Epoch Times Photo
Jack Dorsey, creator, co-founder, and chairman of Twitter and
co-founder and CEO of Square, in Miami on June 4, 2021. (Joe
In many cases, Twitter leaders de facto allowed the government to
silence its critics on the platform.
Many censorship requests came in with an imperious attitude,
particularly those from the Biden White House, but also some from
the office of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who at the time headed
the powerful House Intelligence Committee.
Around November 2020, Schiff’s office sent a list of demands to
Twitter, including for the removal of “any and all content” about
the committee’s staff and the suspension of “many” accounts,
including that of Paul Sperry, a journalist with
Schiff’s office accused Sperry of harassment and promoting “false
Sperry rejected the allegation, asking Schiff to show evidence for
his claims, and announced that he was considering legal action.
Schiff’s demands were apparently a response to Sperry’s articles
that speculated on the identity of the White House whistleblower
that alleged a “quid pro quo” between President Donald Trump and
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Sperry reported, using anonymous sources, that the whistleblower was
likely then-CIA analyst Eric Ciaramella, who was overheard talking
in the White House with Sean Misko, a holdover staffer from the
Obama administration. Misko later joined Schiff’s committee.
Epoch Times Photo
Morning sunlight strikes the flag flying above the White House in
Washington, on March 18, 2015. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Twitter rejected Schiff’s demands, save for reviewing “again”
Sperry’s account activity. Sperry’s account was suspended months
later. Taibbi said he wasn’t able to find out why.
The many censorship requests Twitter received via the FBI were
phrased as merely bringing information to its attention, leaving it
up to the company to decide what to do with them. But Twitter
executives clearly felt compelled to accommodate these requests,
even in cases where they internally struggled to justify doing so,
the documents show.
The government pressure took several forms. The FBI would follow up
on its requests, and if they weren’t fulfilled, Twitter had to
explain itself to the bureau. If Twitter’s position on an issue
differed from the one expected by the government, company executives
would be questioned and made aware that the bureau, and even the
broader intelligence community, wasn’t happy. That would send the
executives into triage mode, rushing to salvage the relationship,
which they apparently considered essential.
Epoch Times Photo
A seal reading “Department of Justice Federal Bureau of
Investigation” is displayed on the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building in
Washington, on Aug. 9, 2022. (STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
Corporate media served as another pressure point. If Twitter
wouldn’t do what it was told fast enough, the media would be
provided with information portraying Twitter as ignoring some
problem of paramount importance, such as possible foreign influence
operations on its platform.
One censorship request, for instance, targeted an account allegedly
run by Russian intelligence, though Twitter wasn’t given any
evidence of it.
“Due to a lack of technical evidence on our end, I’ve generally left
it be, waiting for more evidence,” said one Twitter executive, who
Taibbi says previously worked for the CIA.
“Our window on that is closing, given that government partners are
becoming more aggressive on attribution and reporting on it.”
The internal email suggests that Twitter, despite having no concrete
evidence to back it, wouldn’t dare to disobey the request because of
the media fallout of the government publicly labeling the account as
being run by Russian intelligence.
Congress was perhaps the heaviest sword of Damocles hanging over
Twitter’s head. Lawmakers could not only spur negative media
coverage, but also tie up the company in hearings and
investigations, or even introduce legislation that could hurt
Twitter’s bottom line.
The logo of the CIA
The logo of the CIA is seen at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.,
on Jan. 21, 2017. (Olivier Doulier/Pool/Getty Images)
For instance, just as Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) was pushing Twitter
to produce more evidence of Russian influence operations on its
platform in 2017, he also teamed up with Sens. Amy Klobuchar
(D-Minn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) to propose a bill that would
have required extensive disclosures of online political advertising.
In the meantime, Twitter managers were convinced that lawmakers were
leaking information that Twitter had provided to them and seeding
negative news stories, even as the company was trying to placate
them with increasingly stringent actions toward actual and alleged
Even though the FBI was officially only alerting Twitter to the
activities of malign foreign actors, many of the censorship requests
were simply lists of accounts with little to no evidence of malign
foreign links. At times, Twitter tried to ask for more information,
noting that it couldn’t find any evidence on its end, but often it
simply complied. It was impossible for Twitter to do its due
diligence on each request—there were simply too many, according to
One request revealed by Taibbi claimed that “the attached email
accounts” were created “possibly for use in influence operations,
social media collection, or social engineering.”
“Without further explanation, Twitter would be forwarded an excel
doc,” Taibbi said.
Censorship requests were lopsided against the political right. Some
researchers said that the right was much more involved in spreading
misinformation, but the documents indicate that the censorship
wasn’t so much a matter of a right–left dichotomy, but rather a pro-
and anti-establishment one. Even some left-leaning accounts were
targeted if they strayed too far from the official government
Moreover, the right didn’t appear too keen on demanding censorship
to begin with. Taibbi couldn’t find a single censorship request from
the Trump campaign, Trump White House, or even any Republican,
though he was told there were some.
On the other hand, there seemed to be no appetite across the board
for targeting misinformation coming from the establishment itself.
Epoch Times Photo
An exterior view of “The Mac Shop”, where Hunter Biden allegedly
brought his laptop for repair but never picked it up, in Wilmington,
Del., on Oct. 21, 2020. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)
Hunter Biden’s Laptop
Twitter’s suppression of the 2020 New York Post exposé on Hunter
Biden, son of then-candidate Joe Biden, was dissected in the Twitter
release in particular detail. Apparently, some Twitter executives,
particularly Roth, head of trust and safety, were regularly invited
to meetings with the FBI and other intelligence agencies to receive
briefings on the online activities of foreign regimes. In the
several months prior to the 2020 election, Roth had been conditioned
to expect a “hack-and-leak” Russian operation, possibly in October
and involving Hunter Biden.
The FBI alleged there was some evidence of a Russian influence
operation related to Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine. But the
bureau was also aware that Hunter Biden left his laptop with a trove
of explosive information in a New York computer repair shop and that
a copy of it was handed to Trump’s then-lawyer, former New York
Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The FBI picked up the laptop from the repair
shop in December 2019 and had Giuliani under surveillance in August
2020, when the repairman gave him the copy. As the FBI knew, the
laptop information was neither hacked nor a figment of a Russian
When the Post broke the story, Twitter executives were left with no
doubt it was exactly what the FBI had been warning about.
“This feels a lot like a somewhat subtle leak operation,” Roth
commented in an internal email, despite acknowledging he had no
evidence for such a claim, save for the “questionable origins” of
Epoch Times Photo
Hunter Biden arrives for the inauguration of President-elect Joe
Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Jan.
20, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images)
Roth noted that the story didn’t actually violate any of Twitter’s
rules. Nevertheless, it was marked “unsafe” and blocked on the
platform under its policy against hacked materials, despite there
being no evidence the materials were hacked.
Twitter’s then-Deputy General Counsel James Baker backed the
censorship move, saying it was “reasonable” to “assume” the Hunter
Biden information had been obtained through hacking.
Baker was the general counsel of the FBI until May 2018. He joined
Twitter in June 2020. At the FBI, Baker was closely involved in the
Russia investigation scandal, in which the FBI embroiled the Trump
campaign and later the Trump administration in exhaustive
investigations based on paper-thin and fabricated allegations that
Trump colluded with Russia to sway the 2016 election. The
allegations were produced by operatives funded by the campaign of
Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The FBI was in fact aware of no intelligence suggesting a
“hack-and-leak” operation ahead of the 2020 election, as testified
in November 2022 by Elvis Chan, head of the cyber branch at the
FBI’s San Francisco Field Office, which was responsible for
communications with Twitter and other tech companies with
headquarters in its jurisdiction.
Twitter itself found very little Russian activity ahead of the 2020
election, Shellenberger reported, citing internal communications.
Twitter has long denied the practice of shadowbanning—suppressing
the reach of an account without informing the user. The denial,
however, specifically defined shadowbanning as making the person’s
content invisible to others. What people have been complaining about
is that Twitter seemingly suppresses how many people see their
content, without making it invisible altogether. Internal materials
show that Twitter has been doing that a lot, in fact.
One Twitter engineer told Weiss: “We control visibility quite a bit.
And we control the amplification of your content quite a bit. And
normal people do not know how much we do.”
Among those whose accounts were surreptitiously throttled was Jay
Bhattacharya, Stanford University professor of medicine and one of
the early critics of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Others included Dan Bongino, a conservative podcaster and former
Secret Service agent, and Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point
USA, the country’s largest conservative youth group.
Twitter has extensively suppressed information regarding the
COVID-19 pandemic. Anything about the origins of the virus, its
treatment, the vaccines developed for it, and public policies to
mitigate its spread had to align with the official position of the
federal government, as promulgated by the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC).
Zweig said he “found countless instances of tweets labeled as
‘misleading’ or taken down entirely, sometimes triggering account
suspensions, simply because they veered from CDC guidance or
differed from establishment views.”
Twitter user @KelleyKga, a self-described fact-checker, criticized a
tweet that falsely claimed that COVID-19 was the leading cause of
death by disease in children. @KelleyKga pointed out that such a
claim would require cherry-picking data, backing that argument with
data from the CDC. @KelleyKga’s criticism, however, was labeled as
“misleading” and suppressed. On the other hand, the tweet that
contained the false claim was not suppressed.
All physician Euzebiusz Jamrozik did was write on Twitter an
accurate summary of study results on COVID-19 vaccine side effects.
The tweet was labeled “misleading” and suppressed.
Sometimes, it appears, Twitter suppressed the information on its
own, but many of the COVID-19-related requests came from the
government and even directly from the Biden White House, internal
In one email, White House Digital Director Rob Flaherty accused
Twitter of “bending over backwards” to resist one of his censorship
requests, calling it “total Calvinball”—a game where rules are made
up along the way. The email, which wasn’t part of the Twitter files,
came out during an ongoing lawsuit against the Biden administration
filed by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana.
Another White House staffer wanted Twitter to censor a tweet by
Robert Kennedy, Jr., a long-time critic of vaccination. The staffer
wondered whether Twitter could “get moving on the process for having
it removed ASAP.”
“And then if we can keep an eye out for tweets that fall in this
same genre that would be great,” he said in the Jan. 23, 2021,
The administration wasn’t always trying to get such content removed.
People who merely expressed “hesitancy” about the vaccines were
supposed to only have their content suppressed from reaching any
significant audience, the documents indicate.
The Biden administration had a lot at stake, as the vaccine rollout
was one of its first and most high-profile tasks. There were other
stakeholders as well.
Epoch Times Photo
Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Covid-19 response and the
vaccination program at the White House in Washington, on Aug. 23,
2021. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Several censorship requests came from Scott Gottlieb, board member
and head of the regulatory and compliance committee at Pfizer, the
pharmaceutical giant that made the most popular COVID-19 vaccine and
raked in tens of billions of dollars on sales of it over the past
Gottlieb sent Twitter at least three requests. One targeted a doctor
who argued on the platform that naturally acquired immunity to
COVID-19 was superior to vaccination. Twitter suppressed the tweet,
even though the doctor was correct.
Another request targeted author Justin Hart, who argued on Twitter
against school closures, pointing out that COVID-19 fatalities among
children were extremely rare. Gottlieb sent the request shortly
before Pfizer received approval for the use of its vaccine on
children. Twitter didn’t comply with the request.
Yet another request targeted former NY Times reporter Berenson.
Gottlieb claimed that Berenson’s criticism of Dr. Anthony Fauci,
head of COVID-19 response in the Biden administration, was causing
threats of physical violence toward Fauci. Twitter suspended
Berenson’s account shortly after.
Gottlieb sent his requests to the same Twitter official who served
as a contact person for censorship requests coming from the White
Epoch Times Photo
The suspended Twitter account of Donald Trump appears on a laptop
screen on Jan. 8, 2021. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Trump was particularly effective on Twitter. His soundbites, honed
over decades of dealing with the New York press, played well on the
brevity-oriented Twitter, earning the president some 90 million
followers and lending him the power to bypass media filters and
instantly grab national attention. Trump’s Twitter presidency,
however, brewed scorn inside the Beltway, especially among the
foreign policy crowd that was used to diplomatic subtlety.
Twitter’s removal of Trump a few days after the Jan. 6, 2021,
protest and riot at the U.S. Capitol appears to be one of those
instances where Twitter executives acted on their own, breaking the
platform’s content policies in suppressing the voice of a sitting
American president, internal documents indicate.
Twitter suspended Trump’s account on Jan. 8, 2021, after the
president made two posts.
“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. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly
in any way, shape or form!!!” said one of Trump’s tweets.
“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the
Inauguration on January 20th,” read the other.
Twitter moderators and supervisors agreed that the tweets didn’t
violate any rules.
“I think we’d have a hard time saying this is incitement,” wrote one
staffer. “It’s pretty clear he’s saying the ‘American Patriots’ are
the ones who voted for him and not the terrorists (we can call them
that, right?) from Wednesday.”
Higher executives, under pressure from their many anti-Trump
employees, wouldn’t accept that conclusion and continued to push for
construing Trump’s comments as malicious.
“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,” Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s
head of legal, policy, and trust, wrote in an internal message.
Epoch Times Photo
Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office before signing an executive
order related to regulating social media, in Washington, on May 28,
2020. (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
Another Twitter moderation team quickly furnished Gadde’s argument
with a narrative. Trump was a “leader of a violent extremist group
who is glorifying the group and its recent actions,” the team
concluded, according to internal messages.
Undermining the Nunes Memo
In January 2018, then-Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) submitted his memo
detailing FBI surveillance abuses in pursuit of the Trump–Russia
investigation. The memo was correct on virtually all points of
substance, as later confirmed by DOJ Inspector General Michael
The memo was dismissed by the corporate media as a “joke,” but
gained significant traction on social media nonetheless. Legacy
media and several lawmakers then came out claiming the memo was
boosted online by accounts linked to Russian influence operations.
However, Twitter found no evidence of Russian influence behind the
Epoch Times Photo
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill
in Washington on Nov. 21, 2019. (Andrew Harrer/Pool/AFP via Getty
The claims were all sourced to the Alliance for Securing Democracy
(ASD), a group set up in 2017 under the German Marshall Fund, a
think tank funded by the American, German, and Swedish governments.
The ASD is closely linked to the U.S. foreign policy and national
security establishment. It was headed at the time by Laura
Rosenberger, a former Clinton campaign adviser who held various
roles at the State Department and the National Security Council. Its
advisory council includes former Clinton campaign chairman John
Podesta, former CIA head Michael Morell, and former Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) head Mike Chertoff.
Twitter officials were at a loss as to how the ASD came to its
“We investigated, found that engagement was overwhelmingly organic
and driven by strong VIT [Very Important Tweeters] engagement
(including Wikileaks, [Donald Trump Jr.], Rep. Steve King, and
others),” Roth wrote in an internal message.
In fact, the “dashboard” ASD used to make its claims had already
been reverse-engineered by Twitter—a fact Roth didn’t want to
disclose to the media.
Twitter tried debunking the story behind the scenes without giving
out such details, but to no avail. Initially, reporters ran with the
story without even reaching out to Twitter, Roth wrote.
The initial letter on the matter from Schiff and Sen. Diane
Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee at
the time, also came out before Twitter was given a chance to
respond, internal messages say.
Twitter tried to stop Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) from piling
on with his own letter, but again failed.
“Blumenthal isn’t always looking for real and nuanced solutions. He
wants to get credit for pushing us further. And he may move on only
when the press moves on,” commented Carlos Monje, Twitter’s
then-public policy director, in an internal message. Formerly a
Department of Transportation official, Monje returned to the
department under the Biden administration.
In the end, Twitter never publicly challenged the Russia narrative.
Epoch Times Photo
The Pentagon is seen from a flight taking off from Ronald Reagan
Washington National Airport on Nov. 29, 2022. (Alex Wong/Getty
Aiding Pentagon Psyops
In 2017, a Pentagon official asked Twitter to “whitelist” several
accounts the Defense Department was using to spread its message in
the Middle East. Twitter obliged, giving the accounts similar
privileges it was reserving for verified accounts.
Later, however, the Pentagon removed any apparent connections
between the accounts and the U.S. government, making them de facto
surreptitious. Even though the accounts should have been removed
under Twitter’s inauthentic activity policy, the company left them
up for several years, independent journalist Fang reported.
Federal ‘Belly Button’ of Investigation
The FBI served as a conduit for other government agencies to pass
information to Twitter and ask for favors, according to Taibbi.
In one exchange, FBI cyber head Chan explained that the bureau would
funnel to Twitter communications from the U.S. intelligence
community (USIC), but other election-related communications would
come from the DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency
“We can give you everything we’re seeing from the FBI and USIC
agencies,” Chan said. “CISA will know what’s going on in each
He then asked if Twitter would like to communicate with CISA
separately or if it would prefer to “rely on the FBI to be the belly
button of the [U.S. government].”
Twitter executives were surprised to learn that the FBI had agents
specifically dedicated to searching Twitter and flagging content
Since 2017, Twitter has employed at least 15 former FBI agents,
further entangling the agency with the platform. The practice is so
common that there was an internal discussion group at Twitter for
The FBI responded to the Twitter files disclosures in a statement
that labeled the reporting “misinformation” spread by “conspiracy
theorists and others … with the sole purpose of attempting to
discredit the agency.”
Department of Homeland Censorship
The DHS has managed to shoehorn speech policing into its mandate to
protect critical infrastructure. In January 2017, shortly before
leaving the White House, President Barack Obama designated elections
as critical infrastructure. The DHS’s CISA then made it its job not
only to protect elections from hackers, but also from misinformation
Epoch Times Photo
The US Department of Homeland Security building in Washington, on
July 22, 2019. (ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP via Getty Images)
In July 2020, CISA partnered with several private research entities
to look for, study, and counter election threats. They called
themselves the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP) and included the
Stanford Internet Observatory, the University of Washington’s Center
for an Informed Public, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic
Research Lab, and Graphika, a social media analytics firm.
The Atlantic Council acts as a semi-official NATO think tank. It
enjoys a tight relationship with the government, particularly the
foreign policy and intelligence community. Its roughly 200-strong
board of directors includes seven former CIA heads and a plethora of
other high-level national security figures.
In practice, the EIP searched social media for anything it deemed a
threat to elections, including opinions casting doubt on election
results or processes in a “misleading” way. Such content would then
be submitted to social media companies for removal or suppression.
EIP leader Alex Stamos said the group was set up to “fill the gap”
in countering election disinformation that the government wasn’t
authorized to address.
The government isn’t allowed to interfere with the lawful speech of
Americans, which is protected under the First Amendment.
In its final report after the 2020 election, the EIP took credit for
facilitating the removal or suppression of 22 million pieces of
online content and dozens of entire “narratives.”
Generally, the same actors participating in the EIP have also been
involved in the suppression of information related to COVID-19 and
the 2022 elections.
CISA tried to distance itself from the EIP’s censorship role, saying
it never sent the EIP any examples of potential misinformation.
“CISA does not censor speech, period. CISA’s mission is to build
resilience to disinformation and foreign malign influence activities
that threaten critical infrastructure, including election
infrastructure,” a CISA spokesperson told The Epoch Times via email.
“We work in a non-partisan manner with state and local election
officials to equip the American public with accurate information
about the conduct and security of their elections. Online content
platform operators, as always, make their own decisions regarding
the content on their platforms.”
A CISA official told The Epoch Times that the agency doesn’t send
content removal requests to social media.
This assertion seems to clash with other publicly available
The DHS-funded Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and
Analysis Center (EI-ISAC) encouraged local election officials to
inform it about “misinformation” or “disinformation.” The
information would then be forwarded to CISA, which would “submit it
to the relevant social media platform(s) for review,” an online
EI-ISAC document says.
When asked about the discrepancy, the official clarified that CISA
was transmitting information identified by state and local election
officials as potential election security-related disinformation to
social media platforms in the 2018 and 2020 election cycles, but not
in the 2022 one.
A Shift in Priorities
Mike Benz, a former State Department official who handled the cyber
portfolio in the Trump administration, traced the government–private
censorship apparatus to the foreign policy regime change
Epoch Times Photo
Mike Benz, during an interview on EpochTV’s “Over the Target.” (The
The growth of social media in the 2000s was perceived by the
establishment as positive because it proved invaluable in
accelerating insurgencies. The United States has a long history of
supporting local opposition to rogue regimes and dictators, and
social media allowed such groups to quickly organize mass protests,
as demonstrated by the Arab Spring uprisings, Benz argued.
To that end, free expression online was backed by the U.S. foreign
After the 2016 upsets of Brexit and the election of Trump, however,
the establishment soured on free speech. Both events were seen as
undermining NATO, and both were blamed on foreign influence on
social media—specifically Russia. The U.S. and UK governments in
particular saw the need to identify and purge Russian influence
operations online and set up a government–private apparatus to do
Yet, as the Trump–Russia investigation turned out to be a dud, the
establishment crowd had to acknowledge that it was primarily
domestic forces driving the populist message, Benz noted.
From that point on, the apparatus set up to root out foreign
influence appears to have expanded its focus to target domestic
The government, however, cannot target lawful domestic speech
openly, since the Constitution prohibits government interference
with the political speech of Americans.
Despite this obstacle, the government found ways to support the
domestic censorship ecosystem indirectly, Benz argued.
One method Benz identified is the issuing of grants to academic
institutions to research misinformation and develop methods to
The National Science Foundation, a federal agency that funds
nonmedical research, has given nearly $40 million to 42 U.S.
universities to counter “disinformation” or “misinformation” since
the start of the Biden administration, Benz discovered.
A $3 million grant went to two members of the EIP, the University of
Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, and the Stanford
A $300,000 grant went to George Washington University specifically
to counter the “populist” messaging of politicians in the United
States and several other countries.
Benz became so perturbed by the encroaching censorship that he
founded a group called Foundation for Freedom Online dedicated to
restoring freedom of expression on the internet.
And there are signs that public exposure of the censorship machinery
has had an effect.
The Biden administration was forced last year to put on hold the
DHS’s planned Disinformation Governance Board. Its freshly nominated
head, Nina Jankowicz, resigned.
“Right now, the main source of support I ask is, be passionate
zealots for this,” Benz said during his interview on EpochTV’s “Over
the Target” in December.
“Tell your parents, tell your wife and the kids at the dinner table,
tell your friends. If you’re taking rests in between ping pong
games, play these YouTube videos for people. All of this starts at
the guerilla level.
“This stuff speaks for itself. It will be a cult classic just by
virtue of the fact that it exists now. Because once you see this,
I’ll guarantee you, you will see this everywhere. This stuff is like
a secret decoder ring that will help you slice through the daily
news items you see in the censorship space.”
The Twitter files, he said, serve as the “one hole … that is
breaking this Titanic ship of censorship.”
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered
national topics including politics, economy, education, and law