A House Oversight Committee ostensibly geared toward showing “suppression” of information regarding the laptop of Hunter Biden — the son of United States President Joe Biden and a frequent target of far-right conspiracist fantasies — instead only produced more evidence of Twitter going to extreme lengths to appease right-wing interests.
“Two years after January 6th, we still need to understand the role that Twitter played in order to prevent it from happening again,” said former Twitter official Anika Collier Navaroli as part of her testimony to the committee. “Twitter’s leadership bent and broke their own rules in order to protect some of the most dangerous speech on the platform.”
Navaroli worked on designing Twitter’s content moderation policies before leaving the company and blowing the whistle on its acquiesence to the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2022. She testified that her team devised a policy covering coded incitement to violence in the wake of Trump telling a right-wing hate group to “stand back and stand by” in September 2020.
“Instead of approving it, management bent over backwards to find ways to not approve it,” she said.
Navaroli had previously provided information about the company’s decisions regarding Trump to the House committee investigating the January 6 2021 coup attempt at the United States Capitol building; according to an unpublished memo summarizing their findings, the policy on coded incitement to violence (CIV for short) was supposedly included in a “post-election protest guidance,” but unenforceable because it had never been finalized:
Instead of folding in the CIV policy into its post-election guidance, Twitter leadership team chose to revert to a less-nuanced restatement of its existing policies on content that wishes harm on others. This made it impossible for the Safety Policy Team to remove posts that were increasingly suggestive of civil war in the weeks after the election. [Navaroli] said that their team never received guidance on the implementation of the policy prior to January 6th, even as they say “individuals becoming increasingly armed and the rhetoric becoming increasingly more violent” during the post-election period.”
Navaroli’s testimony also further named Twitter’s former vice president of trust and safety, Del Harvey, as a deterrent to enforcement against Trump. Footage posted by reporter Aaron Rupar shows her explaining to Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez what happened following a July 2019 tweet in which Trump targeted the New York lawmaker and fellow Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan).
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” Trump wrote at the time. “Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that [then-House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
“My team made the recommendation that for the first time we find Donald Trump in violation of Twitter’s policies and use the public safety interstitial,” Navaroli testified. She then confirmed to Ocasio-Cortez that the platform’s anti-abuse policies specifically listed use of the phrase “go back to where you came from” as an example of a violation.
“[Harvey] overrode your assessment, didn’t she?” Ocasio-Cortez asked.
“Yes, she did,” Navaroli confirmed. She also confirmed that within 48 hours, the anti-immigrant phrase had been “removed from the content-moderation guidance as an example.”
“So Twitter changed their own policy after the president violated it in order to potentially violated his tweet?” Ocasio-Cortez asked.
When Navaroli confirmed this as well, the congresswoman added, “So much for bias against [the] right-wing on Twitter.”
After being deplatformed from Twitter in the wake of the coup attempt, Trump was reinstated to the platform by its current owner, right-wing oligarch Elon Musk, in November 2022.