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"Dissenter" staffers on Twitter didn't believe Trump violated 'incitement' policy

The Twitter Files began on Dec. 2 with journalist Matt Taibbi revealing internal efforts to suppress the Hunter Biden story from the New York Post in 2020

December 12, 2022 8:16pm

Updated: December 13, 2022 11:21am

The fifth installment of Elon Musk's "Twitter Files" revealed Monday that a dissenting minority of Twitter staffers believed that tweets written by former President Donald Trump related to the events of Jan. 6 did not violate the company's policies despite the company saying so at the time.

The Twitter Files began on Dec. 2 with journalist Matt Taibbi revealing internal efforts to suppress the Hunter Biden story from the New York Post in 2020.

Yet, historically Twitter's mission was to provide a forum that enabled people to be informed and to engage their leaders directly, the company wrote in 2019 and for years it "had resisted calls both internal and external to ban Trump on the grounds that blocking a world leader from the platform or removing their controversial tweets would hide important information that people should be able to see and debate" Weiss notes toward the beginning of his Monday thread. "

But after Jan. 6, pressure increased to ban Trump on and off Twitter.

Weiss cited "dissenters" within Twitter who did not want to ban Trump including one who wrote:

"Maybe because I'm from China. I deeply understand how censorship can destroy public conversation."

Though across Slack channels, many Twitter employees were upset that Trump hadn’t been banned earlier, Weiss writes adding that after Jan. 6, Twitter employees organized to demand their employer ban Trump.

“There is a lot of employee advocacy happening,” said one Twitter employee.

Pressure grew during the afternoon of Jan. 8 when more than 300 Twitter employees published a letter to CEO Jack Dorsey via the Washington Post, demanding that Trump be removed from the platform.  

"We must examine Twitter's complicity in what President-Elect Biden has rightly termed insurrection."

But the Twitter staff assigned to evaluate tweets quickly concluded that Trump had "not" violated Twitter’s policies.

“I think we’d have a hard time saying this is incitement,” wrote one staffer Beiss cited. 

“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," the staffer wrote.

Another staffer agreed: “Don’t see the incitement angle here.”

Anika Navaroli, a Twitter policy official also agreed that she was "not seeing clear or coded incitement in the DJT tweet,”  adding that she let the elections channel know the team has assessed and found "no vios—or violations—“for the DJT one.”

"Later, Navaroli would testify to the House Jan. 6 committee: 'For months I had been begging and anticipating and attempting to raise the reality that if nothing—if we made no intervention into what I saw [occurring], people were going to die,'" Weiss tweeted.

At 7:44 am EST Twitter’s safety team also decided Trump's announcement he was not attending President Biden's inauguration was not in violation of company policy, saying, “it’s a clear no vio. It’s just to say he’s not attending the inauguration.”

In the same conversation, another staffer interpreted that Trump's tweet might be seeing as an indication that the former president was not supportive of a "peaceful transition" despite nothing on the Tweet stating that. 

To provide context on the historic nature of Trump's Twitter ban, Weiss also reviewed tweets from controversial world leaders including in Iran, Nigeria, and Ethiopia who were allowed to remain on the platform despite comments glorifying violence. 

In 2018 Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wrote: "#Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asia region that must be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen."

He faced zero consequences.

Twitter also deleted a 2020 tweet from Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who said it was "a right" for Muslims to "kill millions of French people," and said that the tweet "glorifies violence," but the leader remained on the platform. Twitter gave similar treatment to Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari.

Something similar happened in October 2021 when Twitter allowed Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to call on citizens to take up arms against the Tigray region.

But Twitter executives would not have the same laissez-faire with Trump despite even though key staffers said that Trump had not incited violence—not even in a “coded” way.

"Less than 90 minutes after Twitter employees had determined that Trump’s tweets were not in violation of Twitter policy, Vijaya Gadde—Twitter’s Head of Legal, Policy, and Trust—asked whether it could, in fact, be “coded incitement to further violence.”

"Things escalate from there," Weiss's Twitter thread continued. "Members of that team came to ‘view him as the leader of a terrorist group responsible for violence/deaths comparable to Christchurch shooter or Hitler and on that basis and on the totality of his Tweets, he should be de-platformed.’

Weiss then outlined the 30-minute all-staff meeting led by Gadde and Dorsey, who were confronted by employees about why Trump had not been banned.

Yoel Roth, Twitter's former head of Trust and Safety, wrote to another colleague, "Multiple tweeps [Twitter employees] have quoted the Banality of Evil suggesting that people implementing our policies are like Nazis following orders."

Dorsey then requested simpler language to explain Trump’s suspension and Roth wrote, “god help us [this] makes me think he wants to share it publicly.”

One hour later, Twitter announced Trump’s permanent suspension “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” Many employees were "ecstatic" Weiss notes and even congratulatory: “big props to whoever in trust and safety is sitting there whack-a-mole-ing these trump accounts” But the purge was far from over and the next day employees expressed eagerness to tackle “medical misinformation” as soon as possible, Weiss notes.

Weiss quoted one staffer who said, "For the longest time, Twitter’s stance was that we aren’t the arbiter of truth, which I respected but never gave me a warm fuzzy feeling." But Twitter’s COO Parag Agrawal—who would later succeed Dorsey as CEO—told Head of Security Mudge Zatko:

“I think a few of us should brainstorm the ripple effects” of Trump's ban. Agrawal added: “centralized content moderation IMO has reached a breaking point now.”

Weiss also cited the reactions of world leaders as French President Emmanuel Macron, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, and Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who expressed concerns over Twitter's decision.

Macron told an audience he didn’t “want to live in a democracy where the key decisions” were made by private players. “I want it to be decided by a law voted by your representative, or by regulation, governance, democratically discussed and approved by democratic leaders.”

“Ultimately, the concerns about Twitter’s efforts to censor news about Hunter Biden’s laptop, blacklist disfavored views, and ban a president aren’t about the past choices of executives in a social media company, Weiss said. "They’re about the power of a handful of people at a private company to influence the public discourse and democracy." 

Executive Editor

Gelet Martínez Fragela

Gelet Martínez Fragela is the founder and editor-in-chief of ADN America. She is a Cuban journalist, television producer, and political refugee who also founded ADN Cuba.