Republican House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer was correct when he declared, during Wednesday’s hearing aimed at looking into information surrounding Hunter Biden’s laptop, that “it’s wrong for the government to call Twitter and say, ‘Take down a tweet.’” But the evidence revealed at the hearing did not support the GOP's thesis: that the FBI had ordered Twitter to remove a news story about Hunter Biden’s laptop shortly before the 2020 election.
What happened during this hearing was actually worse for the GOP than simply not proving a point.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., responded to this news with a taunting, “My, my, my…. What happens when you hold a hearing and you can’t prove your point?”
Indeed. But what happened during this hearing was actually worse for the GOP than simply not proving a point.
The hearing revealed that Twitter had bent its rules to accommodate Trump’s racist attacks on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and other Democratic women of color in "The Squad." Witness testimony also divulged that Twitter’s management had refused to remove Trump tweets flagged by the company's moderation unit in the run-up to the Jan. 6 attack, which members of the unit warned could lead to violence.
These are not the key takeaways Republicans presumably hoped for. Comer had hyped up the event beforehand, claiming it would expose a “coordinated campaign by social media companies … and the intelligence community to suppress and delegitimize the existence of Hunter Biden’s laptop.” The crux of these allegations was that the FBI had directed Twitter to ban sharing of a then-“unsubstantiated” New York Post article about Hunter Biden’s activities.
Alas for Comer and his GOP buddies, there was no evidence to support that. James Baker, Twitter’s former deputy general counsel, testified that the FBI — which at the time was under the control of the Trump administration — never directed them on how to handle the Hunter Biden news story. Instead, the FBI agents provided Twitter with warnings about possible Russian misinformation that led Twitter executives to block sharing the story for a 24-hour period as they reviewed its claims. Yep, all of this for a mere 24-hour delay in sharing unsubstantiated claims about Hunter Biden.
Meanwhile, in September 2019, Trump took to Twitter and described Teigen’s husband, musician John Legend, as “boring” and Teigen as “his filthy mouthed wife.”
Trump didn’t tag Teigen in the tweet, meaning she would not have known about Trump’s attack by way of a Twitter notification.
This prompted Teigen to tweet an offending message in response.
During the House committee hearing, Connolly asked Anika Collier Navaroli, a former employee of Twitter’s content moderation team, about Teigen’s tweet: “The White House almost immediately thereafter contacted Twitter to demand the tweet be taken down. Is that accurate?” Navaroli testified, “I do remember hearing we’d received a request from the White House to make sure we evaluated this tweet, and they wanted it to come down because it was a derogatory statement directed at the president.” However, since it didn’t violate Twitter policies, the tweet remained up.
While the government asking to silence those they disagree with is unconstitutional, it’s consistent with Trump. This is a man who repeatedly demanded "Saturday Night Live" be cancelled and even investigated the FCC for mocking him. Do you think the GOP will hold hearings on Trump’s war on comedy? (That’s a rhetorical question, of course.)
And that wasn't the end of it. By way of Ocasio-Cortez’s questioning, we learned that Twitter modified its rules in a way that allowed Trump to spew racist tweets about "The Squad" in 2019.
Navaroli testified that Twitter’s moderation team recommended Trump's tweet be removed for violating Twitter’s rules at the time, which categorized phrases such as “go back to your country” as derogatory rhetoric. (Squad member Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., is an immigrant.) Navaroli explained, however, that she was overruled by Twitter’s vice president of trust and safety, who then changed the rules to allow such taunts on Twitter. This answer prompted Ocasio-Cortez to rightly comment, “So much for bias against right-wing on Twitter.”
Perhaps the most alarming news from the oversight hearing came when Navaroli testified about how “Twitter’s leadership bent and broke their own rules in order to protect some of the most dangerous speech on the platform … in the months leading up to Jan. 6.” She testified that despite raising red flags to management the day before the Jan. 6 attack, “no action was taken.” This despite her concerns that Trump’s tweets could result in someone being shot.
The House GOP promised to expose Twitter's collusion with Democrats. But all they actually exposed were facts that made Trump and Twitter management look even worse. If this hearing is a preview of the type of information we can expect to learn from future House GOP investigatory hearings, then all I can say is: Bring it on.