The House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on why Twitter limited the spread of propaganda about and nonconsensual nude photos of Hunter Biden has been predictably filled with Republican nonsense. But Democrats have done heroic work showing just how absurd the Republican whining is and drawing attention to real news that Republicans have tried to bury.
Committee members from the two parties are doing very different things. Republicans are trying to get that perfect 30-second clip for Fox News or Newsmax or OAN. It doesn’t matter if the 31st second completely deflates whatever they were saying, because right-wing media will edit out the inconvenient parts. Democrats are saying okay, if we have to have this hearing about Twitter, let’s talk about what Twitter was doing about things other than Hunter Biden dick pics. Let’s talk about the incitements to violence on Jan. 6. Let’s talk about Russian disinformation. And, since Republicans are insisting that Twitter was stacking the deck for Democrats, let’s talk about the relationship between Republicans and Twitter, especially since we’re talking about a time period before Donald Trump was banned, when he was using the platform to abuse his political opponents and encourage his supporters to reject the results of the 2020 elections.
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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brought up the 2019 tweet in which Trump said that she and Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.” She asked Anika Collier Navaroli, who was at the time the most senior member of Twitter’s content moderation team, how her team had assessed the tweet. The answer was that they found it in violation of Twitter policy—that, in fact, the moderation guidelines specifically prohibited saying that immigrants should “go back where they came from” and similar language. But Navaroli’s judgment was overruled by her supervisor, and not only that, the moderation guidelines were changed to allow that kind of attack against immigrants.
Trump benefited from Twitter bending over backward to let him say whatever he wanted. But that wasn’t his approach to other people’s tweets about him. When model and social media influencer Chrissy Teigen insulted Trump on Twitter, the White House asked Twitter to have that taken down, Navaroli testified in response to questions from Reps. Gerry Connolly and Maxwell Frost. Republicans are saying it’s illegitimate that the Biden campaign, which was not a government organization, asked to have nonconsensual nude photos of the candidate’s son removed from Twitter, when the Trump White House made it a practice of asking to censor celebrities for calling Trump a “pussy ass bitch.”
Rolling Stone reports that this wasn’t uncommon. “It was strange to me when all of these investigations were announced because it was all about the exact same stuff that we had done [when Donald Trump was in office],” according to an unnamed “former top aide to a senior Trump administration official.” And, Rolling Stone reports, those requests often came from Trump political appointees, but not always. Sometimes they came from Republican members of Congress. (And Democrats, but Democrats didn’t call this hearing to complain about the practice of taking complaints from public figures and assessing whether they met the standards for action by moderators.)
Ocasio-Cortez also highlighted that the Trump administration itself openly worked with Twitter and other social media companies on preventing foreign interference in elections and the spread of disinformation. She quoted Trump official Chad Wolf as saying, shortly before the 2020 elections, “We now have direct lines of communication with tech and social media companies and election officials so that both parties can seamlessly take action against false information spreading online.”
All of this goes to show that there was nothing unusual or nefarious about the Biden campaign reaching out to Twitter to flag troubling tweets. Twitter had a whole process for handling things like that and regularly did so in response to Democrats and Republicans alike. A request didn’t mean automatic action from Twitter. Sometimes Twitter changed the rules to let a Trump tweet stay up. Sometimes a Trump request to remove an insult from Chrissy Teigen didn’t succeed. But nude photos are pretty obviously a violation of Twitter policy, so those were going to get swift action. It would have been the same if someone had started spreading nude photos of Don Jr. (shudder), as it should be.
So that’s part of what Democrats did with their time at this hearing. Meanwhile, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was showing that she still doesn’t know what’s in federal law or the First Amendment and combining that ignorance with some COVID-19 disinformation:
But that’s what Greene was there to do. It’s what every Republican was there to do. It doesn’t matter to them how easy it is to fact-check any of this. It just doesn’t matter, because these glaring falsehoods will play well with her supporters, and that’s all she cares about. That’s a big difference in the demands placed on the two parties. Democrats are meticulously making a fact-based case and Republicans are spewing disinformation—and the latter are getting more of what they want out of this hearing.
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