The “Twitter Files” released by Elon Musk revealed that FBI agent Elvis Chan frequently pressed the social media company to take down posts that he thought violated the site’s terms of service. But there is even more evidence that the federal law enforcement agency appeared to transition from enforcing laws to serving as a volunteer content moderator for private companies.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry are suing the Biden administration for allegedly colluding with social media companies to censor speech. As part of that lawsuit, Chan sat for a lengthy deposition on November 29. Landry said “Chan’s deposition showed that the FBI was part of this incredible conspiracy.”
The deposition showed that Chan — the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Cyber Branch for the FBI’s San Francisco Division — interacted not just with Twitter, but with other tech companies about what he called “misinformation” that could impact elections. Another government agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), also held frequent meetings with the companies, sometimes alongside Chan. Here are some takeaways from the nearly 400-page transcript of Chan’s testimony:
1) Chan admits to becoming Terms of Service police
Asked why he was flagging posts for social media executives, Chan replied, “It was to alert the social media companies to see if they violated their terms of service. … I remember in some cases they would relay that they had taken down the posts. In other cases, they would say that this did not violate their terms of service.” He said he had about a “50 percent success rate,” explaining, “The success rate would be that some action had been taken because it was a terms-of-service violation.” This is separate from a post involving a violation of law.
Chan also encouraged Americans to pester social media companies on their own. He said he gives “a lot of interviews” to media, including one in which he said that in the days before the election, “There’s going to be a lot of noise, there’s going to a lot of stuff that isn’t true, there’s going to be a lot of worry. What I ask you and all of the voting public to do is get your ballots in as soon as possible.”
He continued, “If you’re seeing something related to the election on your social media platform, all of them have portals where you can report that sort of information,” explaining in his deposition that he was encouraging listeners to report election-related speech to private companies “so that the social media platforms can review it and determine if it violates their terms of service.”
He also encouraged listeners to “report it to FBI.gov or justice.gov, and, you know, there’s a little button you can click to submit a complaint.” He clarified in his deposition that the FBI might take action if it was a threat or contained misinformation about the “time, place or manner” of an election.
2) Onetime government agents have burrowed inside of social media companies
Meetings between Chan or CISA and social media companies frequently consisted of government agents sitting across from company officials who, themselves, were former government officials. Many of the social media company employees who Chan dealt with were former federal employees. At Facebook, that included Emily Vacher, a former FBI employee, and Mike Torrey, a former CIA employee.
Former Department of Justice officials who went on to work for social media companies in which capacity they dealt with Chan included Angela Sherrer of Twitter and Richard Salgado, Harold Chun, and Mike Maffei of Google. For Reddit, he dealt with former State Department official Alyea Baldwin.
3) Some partisan government officials have since taken jobs for social media companies
In addition to former FBI General Counsel Jim Baker going on to work for Twitter, where he played a key role in suppressing content related to Hunter Biden, Lisa Page — who infamously had an affair with fellow anti-Trump FBI agent Peter Strzok during the 2016 election — has now taken a job at Twilio, according to Chan. Chan also said that Matthew Masterson, a left-wing onetime Barack Obama federal appointee who ran the CISA, has taken a job at Microsoft. In July 2021, Masterson called for creating a government anti-misinformation agency similar to the aborted effort by the Biden administration.
4) Chan believed the State Department was pushing software on social media companies that ignored the First Amendment because it was devised for other countries
Chan said an agency inside the State Department called the Global Engagement Center (GEC) was set up to focus on countering terrorists’ propaganda, but has since morphed to countering “malign foreign influence as well.” Chan said he spoke regularly with Sam Stewart of the GEC, and that the GEC would present software from vendors that social media companies could use. But even Chan was concerned that this could be inappropriate.
“The State Department is primarily a foreign-focus agency. And so in their estimation — I believe that in their estimation, their tools would be deployed overseas, where I believe they do not have the same type of legal training that I do specifically about First Amendment protections. And so, you know, they are overseas in embassies and their analysts are overseas in embassies, and so they don’t have the same sorts of concerns that I would working at the FBI,” he said.
5) Chan does not use social media
Chan said he does not use any social media platforms and displayed little grasp of how they work, including not knowing the name of Twitter’s “like” feature.