WASHINGTON (TND) — Congressional Republicans dug further into the Twitter Files in a hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday as part of their ongoing investigation into what they call the weaponization of the federal government.
Journalist Matt Taibbi and author and co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute and the California Peace Coalition Michael Shellenberger shared the spotlight Thursday in front of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government, testifying to their work which attempts to prove that Twitter’s content moderation and enforcement is biased against conservative voices and was influenced by key government agencies.
“This is by far the most serious thing that I’ve ever looked at and it’s certainly the most grave story I’ve worked on personally,” Tabbi said.
Their ongoing releases of internal communications and information are meant to show that collective efforts and relationships between big tech, government agencies and mainstream media have resulted in the censorship of Americans who disagreed with those in power.
“I’ve never worked on an issue where so frequently while doing it I just had chills go up my spine because of what I was seeing happening,” Shellenberger said.
Tweet by tweet, Taibbi, Shellenberger and a handful of others shared documents highlighting a range of concerns from the White House pushing Twitter to quiet medical experts like Harvard epidemiologist Dr. Martin Kulldorf who disagreed with their pandemic policies to the Federal Bureau of Investigation urging suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
“When we read things like’ flagged by DHS,’ or ‘please see attached report from FBI for potential misinformation,’ this would be attached to an excel spreadsheet with a long list of names whose accounts were often suspended shortly after,” Taibbi said.
Democrats on the subcommittee attempted to discredit the journalists, labeling them as ring-wing pawns reaping the benefits of pushing a conservative agenda.
“Is it true you’ve profited since you were a recipient of the Twiter Files? You’ve made money?” Debbie Wasserman Shultz, D-Fla.
“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,” Rep. Stacey Plaskett, D-U.S. Virgin Islands.
Both are pushing back on the accusations.
“The people affected include Trump supporters but also left-leaning sites like Consortium and Truth Out,” Taibbi said.
Democrats also lamented that another Twitter Files thread was posted to Taibbi’s account shortly before the hearing and was not given to them.
“Twitter was more like a partner to government,” one of the tweets read. “With other tech firms it held a regular “industry meeting” with FBI and DHS, and developed a formal system for receiving thousands of content reports from every corner of government: HHS, Treasury, NSA, even local police.”
The hearing comes just a day after the Federal Trade Commission demanded that Twitter and CEO Elon Musk hand over internal files and disclose the names of the journalists he gave access to information.
It's an ask that drew ire from some, with the House Judiciary Committee saying in a press release that "there is no logical reason, for example, why the FTC needs to know the identities of journalists engaging with Twitter."
"Personally naming journalists there, if that's not the weaponization of government, against the First Amendment freedom of press rights that we enjoy in this country, I don't know what is," committee member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told The National Desk's Jan Jeffcoat.
Both Shellenberger and Musk both took to Twitter in response to the FTC's request, claiming it was another example of weaponization.
Democrats on the committee pressed to know where the information featured in the Twitter Files is coming from. Despite being urged by both Plaskett and Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, Taibbi would not confirm that Musk was the person who gave him the files, only attributing them to “sources at Twitter.”
"I'm a journalist. I don't reveal my sources," Taibbi said in response to Garcia's line of questioning. "You're trying to get me to say that he is the source, I can't answer your question."
More hearings on the alleged weaponization of the federal government are expected to be held in the coming months as Republican lawmakers continue to allege that under the Biden administration, several agencies — including the Justice Department and the FBI — are putting pressure on private companies like Twitter to quiet dissenting voices online.
“There is an apartment pattern here that the FBI is using federal resources for political purposes,” Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La. said in a similar House Oversight Committee hearing last month.
Democrats argue that Twitter is responsible for its content moderation and that the hearings are an act of political showboating to further a “conspiracy theory” while wasting public funds.