A deep dive into 'Twitter Files 8'
So far, Elon Musk's Twitter Files series has revealed details of collusion between the former Twitter regime and U.S. government agencies.
These groups worked closely to distort the discourse leading to the 2020 presidential elections using a variety of tools.
Yesterday, Musk released the eighth installment of the series.
Yikes! https://t.co/Qr0KyPuOYf— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 20, 2022
In this edition, journalist Lee Fang revealed how Twitter secretly waged the Pentagon's covert online psy op campaign, which is contrary to the public claims made by the former Twitter regime.
Let's dig deeper.
Fang revealed that the former Twitter regime "claimed for years that they make concerted efforts to detect" and "thwart gov-backed platform manipulation." Such claims were made even during a testimony before Congress.
However, these declarations were mere empty pledges.
Behind closed doors, the former Twitter regime gave approval & special protection to Pentagon accounts that used covert identities and spread propaganda.
Twitter did not suspend many of these accounts for around two years or more despite knowledge of their activities. Some remain active.
Fang cited an example of an email from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) from 2017 that listed 52 Arab-language accounts it "used to amplify certain messages."
Government officials asked for priority service for six accounts, blue tick verification for one, and "whitelist" abilities for the others.
4. In 2017, a U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) official sent Twitter a list of 52 Arab language accounts “we use to amplify certain messages.” The official asked for priority service for six accounts, verification for one & “whitelist” abilities for the others. pic.twitter.com/LuMbMZDv8i— Lee Fang (@lhfang) December 20, 2022
Twitter willingly and instantly complied with these requests on that very day.
Fang revealed the existence of a "whitelist" tag that provided verification status to the accounts without having a blue tick verification. This causes accounts to be exempt from spam/abuse flags. It also increases visibility, and tweets from these accounts become part of trends via hashtags.
5. The same day CENTCOM sent the list, Twitter officials used a tool to grant a special “whitelist” tag that essentially provides verification status to the accounts w/o the blue check, meaning they are exempt from spam/abuse flags, more visible/likely to trend on hashtags.— Lee Fang (@lhfang) December 20, 2022
The primary function of these CENTCOM accounts was to influence U.S. military priorities in the Middle East.
These "priority accounts" promoted information in support of U.S. military narratives, including anti-Iran narratives, support for the U.S.- and the Saudi Arabia–backed war in Yemen, and claims about the accuracy of U.S. drone strikes.
There was no mention of what's going on in Ukraine, but that's the obvious follow-on.
6. The CENTCOM accounts on the list tweeted frequently about U.S. military priorities in the Middle East, including promoting anti-Iran messages, promotion of the Saudi Arabia-U.S. backed war in Yemen, and “accurate” U.S. drone strikes that claimed to only hit terrorists. pic.twitter.com/IhqUDWJjQ9— Lee Fang (@lhfang) December 20, 2022
These accounts initially disclosed their U.S. government ties, but later, this information was suppressed to give the impression that they were run by regular people based in the Middle East.
7. CENTCOM then shifted strategies & deleted disclosures of ties to the Twitter accounts. The bios of the accounts changed to seemingly organic profiles. One bio read: “Euphrates pulse.” Another used an apparent deep fake profile pic & claimed to be a source of Iraqi opinion. pic.twitter.com/VVVb15BDQ2— Lee Fang (@lhfang) December 20, 2022
These accounts also tweeted in Russian and Arabic on U.S. military issues in Syria with ISIS, and many did not disclose their Pentagon ties.
12. In a May 2020 email, Twitter’s Lisa Roman emailed the DoD w/two lists. One list was accounts “previously provided to us” & another list Twitter detected. The accounts tweeted in Russian & Arabic on US military issues in Syria/ISIS & many also did not disclose Pentagon ties. pic.twitter.com/oANuodYwsN— Lee Fang (@lhfang) December 20, 2022
Fang revealed that these covert U.S. military accounts were allowed to function until May 2022 or later.
13. Many of these secretive U.S. military propaganda accounts, despite detection by Twitter as late as 2020 (but potentially earlier) continued tweeting through this year, some not suspended until May 2022 or later, according to records I reviewed.— Lee Fang (@lhfang) December 20, 2022
Fang wrote that one Twitter official felt "deceived" by all these covert activities.
However, emails from throughout 2020 revealed that many other Twitter executives willingly colluded with U.S. officials to conceal information about links these accounts had with U.S. government agencies.
Among these were Twitter's former legal executive Stacia Cardille and former deputy general counsel, who was once FBI general counsel, Jim Baker.
10. Stacia Cardille, another Twitter attorney, replied that the Pentagon wanted a SCIF & may want to retroactively classify its social media activities “to obfuscate their activity in this space, and that this may represent an overclassification to avoid embarrassment.” pic.twitter.com/lTNshDKOBv— Lee Fang (@lhfang) December 20, 2022
Matters improved in August when a Stanford Internet Observatory report exposed these covert U.S. military networks on social media that were spreading propaganda against U.S. foreign adversaries.
The Stanford report revealed that in order to prevent being traced, these U.S. government accounts used deepfake (composite) computer-generated images as display photos.
16. The Stanford report did not identify all of the accounts in the network but one they did name was the exact same Twitter account CENTCOM asked for whitelist privileges in its 2017 email. I verified via Twitter’s internal tools. The account used an AI-created deep fake image. pic.twitter.com/ODLvK7eFlH— Lee Fang (@lhfang) December 20, 2022
Fang revealed that Twitter actively assisted covert U.S. official accounts from 2017 and knew from 2020 that these accounts were meant to influence the discourse but did nothing about them. Twitter's inaction prevailed for a long time.
When Twitter finally acted and removed the propaganda accounts, the media lauded it instead of exposing its collusion with U.S. government agencies and its delay in taking remedial action.
This is because Twitter has also cultivated ties with various media organizations.
When the WaPo reported on the scandal, Twitter officials congratulated one another because the story didn't mention them, but instead focused on the Pentagon.
19. Twitter’s comms team was closely in touch with reporters, working to minimize Twitter’s role. When the WashPost reported on the scandal, Twitter officials congratulated each other because the story didn’t mention any Twitter employees & focused largely on the Pentagon. pic.twitter.com/0cDwdguGpy— Lee Fang (@lhfang) December 20, 2022
Fang said the conduct with the U.S. military's covert network stands in stark contrast with how Twitter has talked about identifying and taking down covert accounts tied to state-backed influence operations, including Thailand, Russia, Venezuela, and others since 2016.
Fang concluded the thread with a link to his piece for The Intercept, which offers a deeper dive into these revelations, it is worth a read.
These revelations once again offer proof that Twitter was influencing rather than reflecting public opinion.
What makes this worse is that the U.S. government was pulling the strings. These operations weren't restricted to U.S. shores; they also covered foreign nations.
If the government can do this on social media, what must it be doing on the ground both in the U.S. and beyond?
How many wars and conflicts have occurred were the result of manipulation?
This explains why government officials declined to answer questions about Ray Epps's role in the Capitol riots.
It is vital not to conflate these revelations with remedial actions.
Also, an exposé such as this is pointless until it reaches regular people.
Alas, that won't happen because the media will filter vital information and make it look as though Musk is leading an online insurrection against the U.S. government.
How have the news media covered the Twitter files?
The WaPo called it an exercise in hypocrisy. Politico claims that the revelations are falling flat. The Atlantic called it a missed opportunity. CNN concluded that content moderation is messy.
Apart from conservative media, few have covered it without spin. Even the mighty BBC ignored disclosures of specific threads.
What can be said with certitude is that Musk has become a target.
The media are already carrying stories of Musk's "inhumane" layoffs, Musk exploiting his employees, and Musk living at Twitter's headquarters.
The media reported on former Twitter official Yoel Roth being forced to leave home due to threats following the release of Twitter Files and escalating attacks from Musk. The Twitter suspension of a handful of liberal journalists caused global condemnation. In the coming weeks, they could cover "scandalous" stories about his personal life, too.
The goal behind these campaigns is to provide agencies a basis to target Musk and get their revenge, it isn't a question of if, but when Musk will face retaliation.
Back to the revelations.
Since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, the government has fed citizens one disinformation campaign after another.
There was the Russian collusion hoax, the Ukraine call hoax, and now the insurrection hoax. To each of these hoaxes were added sub-hoaxes, such as the golden shower hoax and the domestic terror hoax. There were other hoaxes supported and promoted by U.S. officials about bigotry.
It wasn't only hoaxes, though; factual information such as the Hunter Biden laptop from hell story was discredited by former U.S. government officials, the Biden administration, the news media, and social media.
The media actively supported the government propaganda, and we now know that social media firms also colluded with nefarious government forces to deceive the citizens.
We thus have a government out of control, trampling over citizens like an enormous dinosaur.
Instead of being watchdogs, government agencies, the news media, and social media have become willing lapdogs who wag their tails and wait for their next command in hopes that a biscuit will be tossed in their direction.
Citizens have no choice but to presume that every word emanating from the government, the news media, and social media is a lie until proven true after meticulous verification.
This usually occurs under totalitarian regimes, but not in one of the world's largest democracies.
Image: Twitter screen shot.