The “Twitter files” released so far show “definite conclusive proof” of the U.S. government agencies and social media executives monitoring and censoring speech on Twitter, according to investigative journalist and author Matt Taibbi.
Since Dec. 2, Taibbi has been reporting on the documents released by Twitter’s new CEO, Elon Musk, showing election interference — including suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story prior to the 2020 U.S. presidential election and widespread scientific censorship.
In an interview with Russell Brand, Taibbi spoke to the larger issues of mainstream media and censorship and the nature of propaganda versus truth.
Taibbi told Brand:
“There are lots and lots of reports where we see Twitter executives saying things like, ‘DHS [U.S. Department of Homeland Security] flagged this,’ ‘the FBI flagged this’ — and then there’s a whole thread where they decide what to do about it: ‘Do we remove it? Do we put a label on it?’”
Heading into the “Twitter files” project, Taibbi said he was “most interested” in the relationship between law enforcement, government and social media.
“A lot of people have questions [about], ‘how involved is the government in monitoring and censoring the speech of ordinary people?’” Taibbi told Brand.
Taibbi said the documents show Twitter was “clearly getting communications” from not only the FBI and the DHS, “but also a surprise was the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. I hadn’t heard that one before. That was a new one,” he added.
“The government is harvesting tons of information from these companies and then turning around and spitting it back to companies like Twitter in the form of requests for maybe bannings, maybe shadow bans, maybe deletions or labels and that sort of thing.”
Twitter has ‘idiosyncratic control over the visibility of every single user’
Brand pointed out that in the “utopian early days of online spaces,” many people understood that “a new territory had emerged and — like any territory — it could become democratized” as a “revolutionary tool.”
“But what has happened is that expertly these social media spaces themselves have been corporatized and corralled,” Brand said. “These spaces are no longer free spaces. They are managed and controlled spaces.”
Taibbi agreed, adding he was shocked by the “degree of idiosyncratic control over the visibility of every single user account [and] hashtag.”
“They [Twitter executives] have a whole universe of stuff that they can do to any single account.
“They can dial it all the way down to [making it so that] you cannot be searched, then from there there are countless gradations of things that they can do all the way up to [making it so that] your account will not ‘trend,’ only people who follow you can see you, even people who follow you won’t see you unless they search … there’s a whole list of stuff, so they have absolute control over the visibility of basically everything.”
Taibbi and his team have not yet learned much about how Twitter amplifies accounts “because that appears to be another side of the company.”
Brand asked Taibbi whether he thought other social media platforms had similar arrangements with U.S. government agencies.
Taibbi said he thought it was a “safe assumption that every single one of the major platforms has basically the same arrangement with the government.”
“We can’t say definitely exactly how it works yet,” he said, “but I think it’s a safe supposition that there’s probably something similar to what’s going on on Twitter.”
Have we reached the point where all mainstream news is propaganda?
Brand also called out mainstream news for covering current events, such as the war in Ukraine, in such a way that suggests an “inability to think critically in a nuanced way about a complex situation.”
He asked Taibbi:
“Do you think we’re at a point where all news is propaganda — or at least the majority of mainstream news — is propaganda?”
“We’re pretty close to that,” Taibbi responded. “I know for a fact that there are certain stories out there that would not have a home in traditional corporate media … and that is new.”
“Once upon a time, a news organization was most interested in whether or not they had a big story. They didn’t think about other considerations. Very rarely you would see something like The New York Times reaching out to the CIA or having conversations with them about whether or not they should print something.
“But now, I think that is routine across the entire business — maybe not the contact, but the presumption that we only print things that we think are going to help whatever the cause is.”
This practice, combined with “social media censorship and manipulation” — which is so sophisticated — creates an “artificial landscape” of news reporting, Taibbi concluded.
Watch the Russell Brand interview with Matt Taibbi here (36:00):