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Twitter ban on Trump revealed to have come after pressure from Michelle Obama and others on company

Elon Musk and journalist Michael Shellenberger released the fourth installment of Twitter documents revealing company executive communications between Jan. 6 Jan. 8, 2021

December 12, 2022 1:21am

Updated: December 12, 2022 3:56pm

CEO of Twitter Elon Musk and journalist Michael Shellenberger released on Saturday, the fourth batch of Twitter documents of communications from the company's executives between January 6 and January 8, 2021.

On Jan. 7, senior Twitter executives engaged in a series of exchanges titled, "justifications to ban Trump" exploring a change of policy aimed at Trump alone and distinct from other political leaders. The exchanges express no concern for the free speech or democracy implications of the social media platform targeting the communicative impact of its users,  Shellenberger says in his first post discussing his findings.

Shellenberger's thread begins by showing how Twitter employees previously resisted calls to ban Trump from the platform but then described how the pressure to ban the former president intensified.

Shellenberger reported that "internal and external pressure," from Democrats such as former First Lady Michelle Obama fell on the company, as she and others called for Trump to be banned from Twitter.

"Now is the time for Silicon Valley companies to stop enabling this monstrous behavior, and go further than they already have, to permanently ban this man from their platforms and establish policies to prevent their technologies from being used by the nation's leaders to incite an insurrection," Michelle Obama wrote in a lengthy statement posted on Twitter on Jan. 7.

"As pressure grows, Twitter executives built the case for a permanent ban," Shellenberger wrote.

Former President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter the day after the former first lady called for the company to "permanently" remove him.

Newly revealed files show how company executives lined up in pursuit of "a Trump-only policy change."

Michelle Obama added, "And if we have any hope of improving this nation, now is the time for swift and serious consequences for the failure of leadership that led to yesterday's shame."

But Michelle Obama was not alone. The Anti-Defamation League, along with other high-profile organizations, also urged Trump's ban.

On Jan. 7 Trump was already servinv a suspension on the platform, when Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wrote an email to employees, according to Wellenberger,  instructing them, "to remain consistent in their policies, including the right of users to return to Twitter after a temporary suspension."

After that email, a screenshot shows then Twitter chief trust officer Yoel Roth reassuring an employee, "people who are concerned about this... are not happy with where we are."

The records also showed that Twitter maintained a policy called “Public-interest exceptions” —  where elected officials were not banned, due to high public interest in their comments, even if they appeared to violate other policies.

Although Trump's temporary suspension was lifted, that suspension itself intentionally violated Twitter's own “Public-interest exceptions" policy in Trump's case.

Dorsey was also on vacation at the time of Trump's ban in French Polynesia from Jan. 4-8, 2021," Shellenberger wrote.

The CEO delegated responsibility to Yoel Roth and Head of Legal, Policy and Trust Vijaya Gadde, who according to Shellenberger, were "overwhelmingly progressive."

Roth wrote to his colleagues telling them he was excited to share news with them, Shellenberger tweeted.

"Guess what? Jack just passed a repeat offender for civic integrity. The new approach would create a system where five violations ('strikes') would result in a permanent suspension."

"It makes it clear that they had been pushing" Dorsey for "greater restrictions on the speech Twitter should allow in elections," Shellenberger wrote. 

A colleague then asked Roth if this decision meant that Trump could be banned, given that Trump had a "strike remaining."

"Does the incitement to violence aspect change that calculus?" The staffer asked.

Roth responded that it does not, and that Trump continues to have a "strike remaining."

This means that not only were they violating the established “Public-interest exceptions" policy, but they had decided, without any prior warning, to apply a new policy of five "strikes," or five violations of Twitter rules that did not exist, retroactively, to him.

"This is for everything else," Roth said.

Shellenberger later wrote that Roth's colleague's query "very much foreshadows what will happen the next day."

"On Jan. 8, Twitter announces a permanent ban of Trump due to "risk of further incitement to violence, " Shellenberger wrote. In other words, they suspend the account because of an assumption that Trump could incite further violence.

A day after Dorsey's email, Trump was permanently suspended merely because of how his posts were "received and interpreted."

Shellenberger wrote that the "only" Twitter message expressing serious concern about the potential free speech consequences of banning Trump came from a junior-level employee, who said it is a "slippery slope" to make "unique ad hoc" decisions that "don't appear rooted in policy."

The employee added, "this now appears to be a fiat by an online platform CEO with a global presence that can gatekeep speech for the entire world..."

Shellenberger also provided examples of Twitter employees using the term "one off" in loose discussions on Slack that "reveals significant employee discretion over when and whether to apply warning labels on tweets and "strikes "on users."

"Twitter employees recognize the difference between their own politics & Twitter's Terms of Service (TOS), but they also engage in complex interpretations of content in order to stamp out prohibited tweets,” as a series of exchanges over the “#stoptheale” hashtag reveal”, Shellenberger wrote. 

As Shellenberger points out, Roth replied to a sales senior executive who was confused about the policies, "Jack says: 'we will permanently suspend [Trump] if our policies are violated after a 12-hour account lock' and the executive replied, "What policies is Jack talking about?" and Roth replied, "Any policy violation." 

What happens next, according to Shellenberger, is "essential" to understanding how Twitter justified banning Trump.

The sales executive asks, "Are we dropping the public interest [policy] now?" and six hours later Roth replies: "In this specific case, we're changing our focus from public interest to your account."

"In 2018, 2020, and 2022, 96%, 98%and 99% of Twitter staff political donations went to Democrats," Shellenberger reported.

Shellenberger also reported that in 2017 Roth had tweeted that there were "real Nazis in the White House."

After Musk bought Twitter and took over as CEO, Trump's access to the platform was restored. However, Trump has not returned to the platform and continues to solidify his social media presence on his Truth Social platform.