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Democratic lawmakers ask Musk for info on possible China Twitter push


Elon Musk’s Twitter profile is seen on a smartphone placed on printed Twitter logos in this picture illustration taken April 28, 2022.

Dado Ruvic | Reuters

Three Democratic House members are calling on Twitter’s new owner and CEO Elon Musk to provide information about a possible “platform manipulation campaign” on the social media platform that “restricted access to news about the protests in the People’s Republic of China (PRC)” in recent weeks.

In a letter to Musk on Tuesday, Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Jackie Speier, D-Calif., cited a report from The Washington Post that found many Chinese-language accounts began spamming Twitter with links to escort services and other offerings in the wake of protests over China’s restrictive Covid control measures.

“To ensure that the United States is prepared to counter, thwart, and deter foreign influence threats online, it is critical that we understand the extent of the PRC’s potential manipulation of Twitter and identify how recent changes at Twitter are affecting the threat of CCP foreign influence operations on social media,” the lawmakers wrote.

They asked whether Twitter had any indication that the “obstruction of access to Tweets” about the protests was led by Beijing and whether it has evidence that any state actors have sought to deliberately suppress access to information through bots or other manipulative tactics.

The legislators also asked whether the platform has the capacity to identify large-scale misinformation and information suppression campaigns and about what measures Twitter has to block efforts to suppress information access on its service. They asked that Musk respond by the end of the year.

The letter comes after Musk — who is also CEO of SpaceX, a U.S. defense contractor, and Tesla, a multinational electric vehicle company with a vital factory in Shanghai — began releasing internal communications from Twitter this past week to politically conservative writers including Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss. Taibbi has an exclusive podcast deal with Musk’s friend and Twitter investor David Sacks via his podcasting platform, Callin. Taibbi and Weiss both write newsletters on Substack, which is partly funded by Andreessen Horowitz, a co-investor in Twitter with Musk.

Musk released what he said is the first set of “Twitter Files” to support claims that the company’s prior management handled content moderation in a way that was biased against conservatives. Musk has even gone so far as to say that Twitter, which he now owns and leads, interfered with U.S. elections. During a Twitter Spaces discussion, Musk suggested more files would be released regarding how Twitter handled the 2020 presidential election, the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Research conducted before Musk acquired it found that Twitter’s content moderation approach was not politically biased, but the company did suspend tweets or accounts sharing some widely agreed-upon misinformation.

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Twitter’s former deputy general counsel, James Baker, “was exited” from the business this week as well, Musk said, because of “concerns about Baker’s possible role in suppression of information important to the public dialogue.” Musk did not elaborate on the matter.

Taibbi has written that Baker was involved in the review of the “Twitter Files” before they were released to him and Weiss.

Baker previously worked as a federal prosecutor, and as general counsel for the FBI from 2014 to 2018. Former President Donald Trump has alleged that the FBI “spied on” him.

During Baker’s tenure, the FBI investigated Trump to determine whether he may have obstructed justice when he fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017 and whether or how Russia had interfered in the U.S. electoral process leading to Trump becoming president.

Musk is not entirely opposed to working with former FBI or Democratic Party-affiliated people, however. According to their profiles on LinkedIn, Musk employs at Tesla a 23-year veteran of the FBI named Julia Jolie, as well as Albert Gore, the son of former Vice President Al Gore, and Rohan Patel, who was previously a special assistant to former President Barack Obama.

Alex Spiro, an attorney for Twitter and Musk, was not immediately available to comment.

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