Twitter Files: Pre-Musk Twitter allowed Pentagon to use platform to conduct psyop campaigns

Released Tuesday by left-wing journalist Lee Fang of The Intercept, the latest installment of the “Twitter Files” shows that pre-Musk Twitter had allowed the Pentagon to use its platform to conduct psyop campaigns.

And it’d done so despite pledging publicly — even reportedly to Congress — “to rapidly identify and shut down all state-backed covert information operations & deceptive propaganda,” as reported by Fang:

“But behind the scenes, Twitter gave approval & special protection to the U.S. military’s online psychological influence ops. Despite knowledge that Pentagon propaganda accounts used covert identities, Twitter did not suspend many for around 2 years or more. Some remain active,” according to Fang.

In 2017, for example, U.S. Central Command requested that 52 Arab language accounts used to reportedly “amplify certain messages” be whitelisted so that they would be safe from flags and suspensions. Twitter eagerly complied.

Once whitelisted, the accounts were subsequently used to broadcast drone strike announcements, discuss certain legal issues, promote anti-Iran messages in Iraq, promote U.S. supported militias in Syria, etc.

While whitelisted by Twitter, the accounts were not whitelisted by researchers like those at the Stanford Internet Observatory.

In August, this group of researchers released a report “on thousands of accounts that they suspected to be part of a state-backed information operation, many of which used photorealistic human faces generated by artificial intelligence, a practice also known as ‘deep fakes,'” according to Fang.

“The researchers connected these accounts with a vast online ecosystem that included ‘fake news’ websites, meme accounts on Telegram and Facebook, and online personalities that echoed Pentagon messages often without disclosure of affiliation with the U.S. military,” Fang reported for The Intercept.

“Some of the accounts accuse Iran of ‘threatening Iraq’s water security and flooding the country with crystal meth,’ while others promoted allegations that Iran was harvesting the organs of Afghan refugees,” he added.

All this happened as Twitter continued to punish other governments for doing the exact same that the U.S. government was blatantly doing.

“In 2018, for instance, Twitter announced the mass suspension of accounts tied to Russian government-linked propaganda efforts. Two years later, the company boasted of shutting down almost 1,000 accounts for association with the Thai military. But rules on platform manipulation, it appears, have not been applied to American military efforts,” according to Fang.

But it gets worse.

In addition to maintaining whitelisted accounts for psyop purposes, the Pentagon also “began concealing its affiliation with some of these accounts — a move toward the type of intentional platform manipulation that Twitter has publicly opposed.”

“Though Twitter executives maintained awareness of the accounts, they did not shut them down, but let them remain active for years. Some remain active,” Fang noted.

Some like accounts such as this one that hasn’t tweeted anything since October of 2019:

The U.S. Pentagon was essentially allowed to run roughshod over all of Twitter’s rules without any consequences.

In concluding his report, Fang stressed that these conclusions weren’t spoon-fed to him by Twitter owner Elon Musk — that he’d discovered them himself while scouring through all the materials that Musk had made available to journalists.

“Twitter did not provide unfettered access to company information; rather, for three days last week, they allowed me to make requests without restriction that were then fulfilled on my behalf by an attorney, meaning that the search results may not have been exhaustive,” he noted.

“I did not agree to any conditions governing the use of the documents, and I made efforts to authenticate and contextualize the documents through further reporting. The redactions in the embedded documents in this story were done by The Intercept to protect privacy, not Twitter,” he added.

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