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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted on Friday that the Biden administration did not involve itself with content moderation decisions at Twitter, even though her predecessor said the opposite.
One reporter asked during a press briefing whether officials were in contact with former Twitter General Counsel Jim Baker, the former FBI attorney who aided with Russia-related investigations into former President Donald Trump. Jean-Pierre repeatedly answered that the administration was “not involved” with decisions to censor users.
“It’s up to private companies to make these type[s] of decisions,” she insisted, according to a report from Fox Business. “We were not involved. I can say that we were not involved.”
The description of the administration’s involvement with content moderation differs from the summary provided as recently as last year by former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who said that officials were in “regular touch with social media platforms” to make them aware of “the latest narratives dangerous to public health.” She asserted that no proponent of “misinformation” should be banned from one major platform and not others.
The release of the initial installment of the Twitter Files, which recount the social media platform’s censorship efforts before Elon Musk recently acquired the company, was reportedly compromised last week after reporter Matt Taibbi revealed that Baker vetted the files without the knowledge of new management before sending them to journalists, even though he had been embroiled in the censorship controversy himself.
Baker’s decision to vet the files ultimately triggered his ouster and the delay of the second installment of the Twitter Files. “In light of concerns about Baker’s possible role in suppression of information important to the public dialogue, he was exited from Twitter today,” Musk said.
Baker, who teaches at Harvard Law School and formerly served as a Brookings Institution visiting fellow, had encouraged the social media company to suppress the New York Post’s report on Hunter Biden’s laptop ahead of the 2020 election. The attorney was the subject of a criminal investigation five years ago over allegations that he made unauthorized leaks to the media; the probe ended with no charges.
The first edition of the Twitter Files showed that Biden campaign officials routinely asked executives to remove posts, often from the accounts of prominent conservatives critical of the then-Democratic presidential nominee. “By 2020, requests from connected actors to delete tweets were routine,” Taibbi wrote. “One executive would write to another: ‘More to review from the Biden team.’ The reply would come back: ‘Handled.’”
The second edition of the Twitter Files, shared by journalist Bari Weiss on Thursday evening, revealed that the social media company built blacklists, prevented disfavored tweets from trending on the platform, and actively limited the visibility of entire accounts and trending topics without telling users. Former company bosses such as founder Jack Dorsey, chief executive Parag Agrawal, and head of legal Vijaya Gadde collaborated to censor multiple popular conservative accounts. The latter two executives were recently dismissed by Musk.
For years, however, Twitter executives had repeatedly claimed that no such censorship had occurred. “People are asking us if we shadow ban. We do not,” a blog post from 2018 co-authored by Gadde herself said. Dorsey answered with a simple “No” when asked by commentator Dave Rubin in 2020 whether the firm shadow bans “based on political beliefs.”