House Democrats and Republicans sparred Thursday over how Twitter handles government requests for Twitter to review posts, in the second House committee showdown over reports known as the “Twitter Files” released by several journalists on the platform.
Republicans called in Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger, two of the journalists who released threads of the files, as witnesses in a hearing for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government. The hearing ramped up House GOP leaders’ accusations that tech companies are making content censorship decisions with an anti-conservative bias.
In the most heated moments, Democrats complained that another Taibbi “Twitter Files” thread was just posted shortly before the hearing started and not provided to them. They also pressed the journalists on how they obtained the files.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the committee, charged that the “government built a cozy relationship with Big Tech” — referencing communications reported by Taibbi and Shellenberger in the Twitter Files. He also cited the platform’s decision to block a New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop in 2020 after intelligence officials said they suspected it could have been the result of a Russian intelligence operation.
“The information op was run on us, run on we the people. And if that’s not the weaponization of government, I don’t know what is,” Jordan said.
Democrats blast ‘cherry-picked’ emails, ‘so-called journalists’
Democrats accused the House majority of choosing witnesses to advance a false narrative after former Twitter executives testified at a House Oversight Committee hearing last month that they did not have knowledge of Democrats making direct demands to remove content.
Oversight committee Twitter hearing blasted by Democrats
“Republicans have brought in two of Elon Musk’s public scribes to release cherry-picked, out of context emails and screenshots designed to promote his chosen narrative — Elon Musk’s chosen narrative that is now being parroted by the Republicans because the Republicans think these witnesses will tell a story that is going to help them out politically,” said Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands), ranking member of the subcommittee.
Later in her opening statement, she referred to both Taibbi and Shellenberger as “so-called journalists,” which Taibbi later dinged her for in his own statement.
“Ranking member Plaskett, I’m not a so-called journalist. I’ve won the National Magazine Award, the I.F. Stone Award for independent journalism and I’ve written 10 books, including four New York Times best-sellers,” he said, as Jordan could be heard laughing in the background.
The hearing came after House Judiciary Committee Republicans released a report this week saying that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asked Twitter to provide names of journalists to which the company has provided internal records.
Plaskett said that while the GOP report was largely focused on the letters that the FTC sent Twitter since Musk took ownership of Twitter, the company had issues with the FTC long before Musk was involved, relating to its use of account holder data.
FTC demanded Musk communications, names of journalists receiving internal files in Twitter probe, House Republicans say
Democrats on the panel during Thursday’s hearing pressed Taibbi and Shellenberger over the scope of the information they had access to, and the terms they agreed to when posting them.
‘Who gave you access?’
Taibbi said during the hearing that he signed a waiver and did not have access to personal info or human resources files as part of his process of receiving the trove of emails and files.
But Taibbi would not say, despite being pressed by both Plaskett and Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), whether Musk was the person who gave him that information.
“Who gave you access to these emails? Who was the individual who gave you permission to access these emails?” Plaskett asked.
Taibbi referred to the attribution in his story, “sources at Twitter.”
Jordan objected to Plaskett asking about a journalist’s sources.
Later in the hearing, Garcia asked Taibbi about whether Musk was the source.
“Either he is or he isn’t. If you’re telling me you can’t answer because it’s your source, then the only logical conclusion is that he is, in fact, your source,” Garcia said.
Musk himself has promoted the Twitter Files and previewed their publication before Taibbi released them.
Thursday’s hearing was the second that House Republicans called over the Twitter Files. The House Oversight Committee held a similar hearing last month, featuring former Twitter executives.
In both hearings, Democrats argued that Twitter, as a private company, is protected by the First Amendment to moderate content at its discretion, and tried to illustrate the hearings as an attempt for the GOP to score political points while wasting public funds.
Republicans, on the other hand, argued that government officials were inappropriately using a company to exert censorship by proxy.
“The thing that we’re concerned about is when the federal government by proxy essentially contracts this out, because the federal government can’t ban speech,” said Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah).
“Anyone would be foolish to think that when the FBI comes to a private company and highlights speech, and then would expect them to do nothing. Of course they would respond to that. The FBI expected them to respond to that,” Stewart said.
Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) took a different view.
“It may be possible, that if you can take off the tinfoil hat, that there’s not a vast conspiracy. Or that ordinary folks and national security agencies responsible for our security are trying their best to find a way to make sure that our online discourse doesn’t get people hurt or see our democracy undermined,” Allred said.