Twitter execs likely in the hot seat during House’s ‘Twitter Files’ hearing post-Elon Musk leak
House Republicans are gearing up to grill former Twitter employees at a Wednesday hearing, escalating their accusations that social media companies are censoring content with an anti-conservative bias.
The hearing is largely based around a slew of information dubbed the “Twitter Files” released by Twitter CEO Elon Musk after taking over the company last year.
In the data are details about who at the social media platform decided to limit the spread of a story about President Biden’s son Hunter Biden during the 2020 presidential race.
The tweets revealed in the thread largely showed internal debates among employees over the decision and lacked details of influence from Democrats. Nonetheless, it fueled outrage from GOP lawmakers, who are using their newly claimed House majority to dig into the debate.
“The dynamic, I’m afraid, is going to be one of castigating the pre-Elon Musk Twitter as having been in the pocket of Biden, the Democrats and the radical left,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of NYU Stern’s Center for Business and Human Rights.
Democrats may have their own set of questions for Twitter’s former Chief Legal Officer Vijaya Gadde, former Deputy General Counsel James Baker and former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth. Most of them are likely related to Musk’s takeover of the company and overall handling of misinformation online.
Twitter, as well as other social media companies, has faced scrutiny on both sides of the aisle. Democrats have slammed Twitter over what they see as allowing too much misinformation and hate speech to spread on the platform.
Democrats, however, will likely “feel obliged” to counteract the “hyper partisan allegations” from Republican members, and probably won’t be able to “make a lot of constructive progress” at the hearing, Barrett said.
“If the Republicans just want to beat up on the pre-Musk Twitter and suggest the Biden administration has been involved in all kinds of nefarious communication or influence or something, that’s what the hearing will end up being about,” he said.
‘A platform struggling’
Roughly two months into his time serving as Twitter CEO, after closing a $44 billion deal that he tried to back out of in court, Musk released the four-part Twitter Files series through threads posted by journalists.
The first of which, posted by longtime political journalist Matt Taibbi, focused on Twitter’s decision to suppress the New York Post’s story about Hunter Biden’s laptop.
The thread of internal communication seems to lack evidence to back up the claims from Rep. James Comer (Ky.) and other Republicans that the Biden campaign worked with Twitter to slow the spread of the story.
But it does highlight concerns experts raised about how social media companies interact with government requests.
Taibbi at the time wrote that both Democrats and Republicans could request for tweets to be reviewed or removed and that Twitter honored requests from both the Trump White House and Biden campaign in 2020.
Barrett said a discussion about how influential social media platforms “ought best to interact with political elites” or structure their relationships with the governments is warranted.
“What I see is a platform struggling to figure out what to do with tricky situations like a political campaign or a presidential administration coming to you and telling you … this content you have on your platform is incorrect,” Barrett said.
“What do you do then if you’re the platform? How should that communication be structured? Right now all of this has been handled in a very ad hoc way, and I think that’s not optimal,” he added.
Anthony DeAngelo, head of public affairs and strategic communications at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which studies extremism and disinformation, said members of both sides of the aisle should be “looking for ways to ensure full trust and faith in the internet’s public square.”
“Accountability requires openness and transparency, and members should press former and current Twitter executives for transparency on algorithmic preferences, inconsistencies on content moderation policies and how they’re applied, and their recent decision to remove free access to Twitter application programming interface,” DeAngelo said in an email.
The hearing may be just the start of House Republicans’ agenda attacking social media companies over their content moderation decisions.
Other committees may look to hold hearings to investigate the decision, as well. At the time the Twitter thread was posted by Taibbi, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), now chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told The Hill the revelations in the thread warrant investigation.
“There’s probably not an email from [FBI agent] Elvis Chan to [then-Twitter CEO] Jack Dorsey saying take down the whole story. But there’s weekly briefings where they say, ‘We think there’s real potential for hacking-and-leak operations, Russia’s going to try to interfere with the election,’” Jordan said.
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