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Censoring Covid opinions, suppressing Hunter Biden story, allowing child porn: Ex Twitter execs including Yoel Roth, Vijaya Gadde grilled by US Committee

Rep Nancy Mace questioned Gadde if she was a doctor as Twitter allegedly suppressed the Covid information. She said, "What makes you think you or anyone else at Twitter have the medical expertise to censor actual, accurate, CDC data?”

On February 8 (local time), former Twitter executives admitted to errors made by the company while handling different matters, including Hunter Biden’s laptop story in October 2020, censoring Covid opinions of medical professionals and more. However, they categorically denied government pressure on making decisions related to the Hunter Biden story.

Twitter’s Former deputy counsel James Baker, former Head of Trust and Safety Yoel Roth and former chief legal officer Vijaya Gadde were grilled during the hearing in front of the House Oversight Committee for the new Republican majority investigating the administration and family of President Joe Biden. The committee aims to examine the allegations against the social media platform related to the Hunter Biden laptop story and broader complaints about censorship on the platform.

James Comer, a Kentucky Republican, heads the committee. Comer is leading an investigation into the business dealings of the Biden family. In a broader investigation, other allegations against the social media giant following the release of the Twitter Files are also being probed. In Twitter Files, internal communications of Twitter staff from the time before Elon Musk took over were released in parts. The documents revealed how the company staff decided to block, shadow ban, and restrict users’ reach. Furthermore, allegations of the government’s involvement in handling the Hunter Biden story were also discussed.

In a statement, Comer said, “America witnessed a coordinated campaign by social media companies, mainstream news, and the intelligence communities to suppress and de-legitimised the existence of Hunter Biden’s laptop and its contents. Twitter worked hand-in-hand with the FBI to monitor the protected speech of Americans, receiving millions of dollars to do so.”

‘No government involvement in suppressing Hunter story’ claim former executives

In the “Twitter Files” released by Twitter in association with multiple journalists, it was alleged that the US government played a role in censoring the Hunter Biden laptop story. Twitter Files revealed that Twitter acted “under orders from the government” to suppress the laptop story. However, the executives testifying in front of the committee categorically denied the role of the government.

Roth claimed that there was a lot of confusion in Twitter’s office over how the story should be handled as they struggled to tackle “misinformation” specifically from the “foreign actors” on the platform. He said, “It isn’t obvious what the right response is to a suspected but a not-confirmed cyber attack by another government on a presidential election. I believe Twitter erred in this case because we wanted to avoid repeating the mistakes of 2016.”

He added that initially, he was against restricting the story, but the company’s decision to suppress it under the impression that there might be a Russian hand behind it overshadowed his personal views.

In the opening statement, Baker said, “I am aware of no unlawful collusion with, or direction from, any government agency or political campaign on how Twitter should have handled the Hunter Biden laptop situation. Even though many disagree with how Twitter handled the Hunter Biden matter, I believe that the public record reveals that my client acted in a manner that was fully consistent with the First Amendment.” While Twitter executives admitted they mishandled the story, they claimed it was done internally to handle the misinformation.

Notably, after initially blocking the story from getting published or shared on its platform, Twitter reversed its decision to block it. Meanwhile, the New York Post’s Twitter account and the social media accounts of other users who shared the story were blocked, suspended and restricted. In a statement, Gadde said Twitter should have reinstated the Twitter account of the New York Post immediately after the company reversed its decision to block the Hunter Biden story.

Republicans blamed Twitter executives for misinformation

Contrary to the claims made by the Twitter executives, the Republicans accused them of suppressing the story because it was believed that Russia might be influencing the 2020 election. Comer said, “You all led the American people to believe (it) was Russian disinformation when it was not. This is something this committee should be concerned about.”

Democrats came out in support of Twitter executives

New York freshman Democrat Rep Dan Goldman, who also represented the House’s 2019 impeachment inquiry into Trump as lead counsel, supported Twitter executives saying that there were legitimate reasons behind Twitter and ex-intelligence officials to believe that it was Russian disinformation. He cited the reason for his belief as Trump’s lawyer Rudy Guiliani pushing the story. He further said Guiliani previously coordinated in anti-Biden efforts with a Russian agent, which synced with the claims of Russian involvement in the Hunter Biden story.

Allegations of suppressing Covid-19 opinions

Republicans criticised Twitter policies on how the conservatives were treated over the Covid-19 opinions. Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene questioned the Twitter executives over banning her account for being critical of Twitter’s Covid-19 misinformation policy.

Notably, her account was suspended in January 2022 for alleged violations of Twitter Twitter’s Covid-19 misinformation policy. Later, when Musk took over Twitter, he systematically unsuspended several accounts (the process is still underway) that were allegedly suspended without valid reasons. Greene’s account was one of such accounts that Twitter reinstated in November 2022.

Rep Nancy Mace questioned Gadde if she was a doctor as Twitter allegedly suppressed the Covid information. She said, “What makes you think you or anyone else at Twitter have the medical expertise to censor actual, accurate, CDC data?”

Mace accused Gadde and Twitter executives of shutting the account of Jay Bhattacharya, a medical professor from Stanford, who was critical of the lockdowns during a pandemic. She said, “You guys censored Harvard-educated doctors, Stanford-educated doctors, doctors that are educated in the best places in the world, and you silenced those voices.”

The Twitter executive claimed the Trump administration tried to suppress accounts

In her testimony, Anika Collier Navaroli, a former Twitter employee turned whistleblower, claimed that the Trump administration tried to suppress a tweet critical of the then-President. The tweet was published by TV personality and model Chrissy Teigen. Navaroli claimed she ‘heard’ about the request from her supervisor.

Interestingly, Democrats also criticised Twitter for “allowing misinformation against the LGBTQ community and people of colour”. In her questions, Rep Alexandria Ocasio Cortez cited some specific examples of tweets inspiring violent threats, including bomb threats, at Boston Children’s Hospital over its care for transgender children.

With a specific reference to the famous Twitter account LibsofTikTok, which shares the problematic actions being taken at government and administrative levels to “include” the LGBTQ community, she asked if the account was still active on the platform. Roth, in a reply, said, “Regrettably, yes, it is”.

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