‘Twitter Files’ 3 highlights internal dialogue on banning Donald Trump: ‘Moral imperative’

Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at The Rosen Shingle Creek on February 26, 2022, in Orlando, Florida. CPAC, which began in 1974, is an annual political conference attended by conservative activists and elected officials. | Joe Raedle/Getty Image

The third installment of Elon Musk's "Twitter Files" was released Friday night, shining a light on the social media giant's internal discussions leading to former President Donald Trump's ban from the platform in January 2021 while he was still in office.

Journalist Matt Taibbi, a former Rolling Stone politics reporter who released the first installment of "Twitter Files," posted the third installment in a Twitter thread based on information he obtained from Musk, who purchased the company in October for over $44 billion. 

"We'll show you what hasn't been revealed: the erosion of standards within the company in months before [Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot], decisions by high-ranking executives to violate their own policies, and more, against the backdrop of ongoing, documented interaction with federal agencies," Taibbi wrote. 

"Whatever your opinion on the decision to remove Trump that day, the internal communications at Twitter between January 6th-January 8th have clear historical import. Even Twitter's employees understood in the moment it was a landmark moment in the annals of speech."

Part 1 of the third installment focuses on the days following the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot, which occured on the day Congress certified the results of President Joe Biden's election victory over sitting President Trump. 

Trump's Twitter account, which had grown to be a primary line of communication with his supporters amid a tumultuous relationship with the mainstream media, was permanently suspended two days later on Jan. 8. Twitter stated that it banned the president "due to the risk of further incitement of violence."

Tabbi shared a screenshot from an internal chat in the days following the U.S. Capitol riot of one unnamed Twitter official asking: "Is this the first sitting head of state to ever be suspended?"  

"As soon as they finished banning Trump, Twitter execs started processing new power," Taibbi wrote. "They prepared to ban future presidents and White Houses — perhaps even Joe Biden. The 'new administration,' says one exec, 'will not be suspended by Twitter unless absolutely necessary.'"

The journalist shared another screenshot of an official stating that Twitter would take action to "limit" the use of government accounts, such as @POTUS and @WhiteHouse, but would not suspend those accounts. 

"However, those accounts will be transitioned over to the new administration in due course and will not be suspended by Twitter unless absolutely necessary to alleviate real-world harms," the internal message reads. 

In its Jan. 8, 2021, announcement of Trump's ban, Twitter cited two tweets that the company said violated its "Glorification of Violence policy."

The first tweet (from Jan. 8, 2021) reads: 

"The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!"

The second tweet (a few hours later) states: 

"To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th."

A Twitter official stated in a message at the time that the "context surrounding" narratives that Trump and his allies used in the previous four years was to be taken into account regarding the company's response to the tweet. 

"Context matters and the narrative that Trump and his friends have pursued over the course of this election and frankly the last 4+ years must be taken into account when interpreting and analyzing that tweet," the official wrote. "The larger decision is around the moral imperative and decision as a company, which user sentiment should not drive based on #1, [redacted] and I believe his tweet does violate our rules when taking that historical context + current climate into account." 

Taibbi reported that although the "bulk of the internal debate" leading up to Trump's ban occured between Jan. 6 and Jan. 8, 2021, the "intellectual framework was laid in the months preceding the Capitol riots."

"Before J6, Twitter was a unique mix of automated, rules-based enforcement, and more subjective moderation by senior executives. As @BariWeiss reported, the firm had a vast array of tools for manipulating visibility, most all of which were thrown at Trump (and others) pre-J6," Taibbi wrote. 

"As the election approached, senior executives — perhaps under pressure from federal agencies, with whom they met more as time progressed — increasingly struggled with rules, and began to speak of 'vios' as pretexts to do what they'd likely have done anyway." 

On Oct. 8, 2020, executives launched a Slack channel called "us2020_xfn_enforcement." According to Taibbi, that channel became the "home for discussions about election-related removals, especially ones that involved 'high-profile' accounts" called "Very Important Tweeters." 

A smaller team of executives formed what Taibbi described as a "high-speed Supreme Court of moderation" even though Twitter already employed a "Safety Operation" team that followed a more rules-based process. The team of executives issued "content rulings on the fly, often in minutes and based on guesses, gut calls, even Google searches, even in cases involving the President."

"During this time, executives were also clearly liaising with federal enforcement and intelligence agencies about moderation of election-related content," Taibbi stated. "While we're still at the start of reviewing the #TwitterFiles, we're finding out more about these interactions every day."

In examining Twitter's "entire election enforcement Slack," Taibbi stated there wasn't "one reference to moderation requests from the Trump campaign, the Trump White House, or Republicans generally." 

"We looked. They may exist: we were told they do," Taibbi write. "However, they were absent here."

On Sunday, Taibbi stated that journalist Bari Weiss will "reveal the secret internal communications from the key date of January 8th."

"By January 8th, which @BariWeiss will describe Sunday, Twitter will be receiving plaudits from 'our partners' in Washington, and the sitting U.S. president will no longer be heard on the platform," Taibbi added. 

The "Twitter Files" are part of Musk's pledge to make Twitter more transparent about its "free speech suppression." The first installment focused on Twitter's decision to limit the sharing of the New York Post's Hunter Biden laptop story in the days leading up to the 2020 election.

The second installment, released by Weiss, focused on a secret Twitter "Trends Blacklist," which included accounts such as Libs of Tik Tok and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor from Stanford University School of Medicine who opposed COVID-19 lockdowns. 

Another installment of the "Twiter Files" is slated to be released Saturday by Michael Shellenberger detailing the "chaos inside Twitter on January 7th." 

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith, or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP.

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