Michael Shellenberger Profile picture
Apr 3 27 tweets 18 min read Read on X

Brazil is engaged in a sweeping crackdown on free speech led by a Supreme Court justice named Alexandre de Moraes.

De Moraes has thrown people in jail without trial for things they posted on social media. He has demanded the removal of users from social media platforms. And he has required the censorship of specific posts, without giving users any right of appeal or even the right to see the evidence presented against them.

Now, Twitter Files, released here for the first time, reveal that de Moraes and the Superior Electoral Court he controls engaged in a clear attempt to undermine democracy in Brazil. They:

— illegally demanded that Twitter reveal personal details about Twitter users who used hashtags he did not like;

— demanded access to Twitter’s internal data, in violation of Twitter policy;

— sought to censor, unilaterally, Twitter posts by sitting members of Brazil’s Congress;

— sought to weaponize Twitter’s content moderation policies against supporters of then-president @jairbolsonaro

The Files show: the origins of the Brazilian judiciary’s demand for sweeping censorship powers; the court’s use of censorship for anti-democratic election interference; and the birth of the Censorship Industrial Complex in Brazil.

TWITTER FILES - BRAZIL was written by @david_agape_ @EliVieiraJr & @shellenberger

We presented these findings to de Moraes, to the Supreme Court (STF), and to the High Electoral Court (TSE). None responded.

Let’s get into it...
“We are… pushing back against the requests...”

On February 14, 2020, Twitter’s legal counsel in Brazil, Rafael Batista, emailed his colleagues to describe a hearing in Congress on “Disinformation and 'fake news’”

Batista revealed that members of Brazil’s Congress had asked Twitter for the “content of messages exchanged by some users via DMs” as well as “login records - among other info.”

Batista said, “We are… pushing back against the requests,” which were illegal, “because they do not meet [Brazilian Internet law] Marco Civil legal requirements for disclosure of user's records.”

Batista noted that some conservative Twitter users had gone to the Supreme Court “after they learned from the media that the Congress was trying to get their IPs and DM content. In light of this, the Supreme Court granted an injunction suspending the requirement given its failure to fulfill legal requirements.”Image
CONTEXT: Brazil’s Supreme Court and Superior Electoral Court

Seven justices comprise Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court (TSE).

Three of those justices are also members of the Supreme Court (STF).

One of them, Alexandre de Moraes, presides over the TSE.

Here's background on the rise of Brazil's Censorship Industrial Complex by @david_agape_

“Google, Facebook, Uber, WhatsApp and Instagram provide registration data and phone numbers without court order”

On January 27, 2021, Batista emailed his colleagues about a police investigation against him for refusing to give personal Twitter user data to the São Paulo State Public Prosecutor Office.

The Prosecutor claimed that Twitter’s “attitude is isolated, because all the other big technology companies such as Google, Facebook, Uber, WhatsApp, and Instagram provide registration data and phone numbers without a court order."

But Twitter “has not [sic] affirmative obligation to collect registration data” explained Batista to the prosecutor and “there is no phone number associated with the account under investigation.”Image
“This is the first time an actual criminal investigation was filed against an employee”

On February 18, 2021, Batista emailed his colleagues again to report back on his deposition. He said he told the prosecutor that “Twitter operates in Brazil since 2012 and this is the first time an actual criminal investigation was filed against an employee for allegedly non-compliance either with a request or a court order.”

Batista said he pointed out that “There is no affirmative obligation in the country for collection and consequently provision of 'registration data'."

Moreover, Brazil’s Internet privacy law, “Marco Civil… covers only: "I - physical address; and II - personal qualifications: understood as full name, marital status and profession" - none of them collected by Twitter.”Image
“We are unfortunately living strange times in Brazil.”

One month later, on March 18, Batista emailed his colleagues again, this time with, “Great news!” A judge rejected the prosecutor’s request for “private user information absent a court order” and also “rebukes the prosecutor for forcing compliance through a non-existent obligation, without clarity about the purpose of the criminal investigation and most importantly, reinforcing that acts that seek to identify private and constitutionally protected information require previous judicial review.”
A colleague of Batista, Regina Lima, replied to his email saying, “What Rafa forgot to mention is that the employee under threat here was him, the matter continued to escalate in a dangerous way and his resilience throughout the process was amazing.”

She added, “We are unfortunately living strange times in Brazil. We are seeing a concerning trend on aggressive law enforcement requests and court orders restricting fundamental rights.”Image
“An unfortunate and surprising update”

Then, on March 30, Batista emailed his colleagues again with “An unfortunate and surprising update”: the São Paulo State Public Prosecutor Office was back on the attack, “initiating a criminal proceeding” and claiming a “conflict of interest/lack of impartiality of the Judge.”
One week later, on April 5, 2021, Batista emailed his colleagues to say, “I am happy to share that we had great and relieving news…. The criminal court preliminary dismissed the charges against me mainly because it was not possible to identify any element of crime in my conduct.”

The ruling was because Twitter does not collect “registration data” of its users and the Marco Civil “clearly states that access to protected information such email - personal data - could only be done through specific judicial review.”Image
“Google Brazil… weakens our stance on privacy since we have always pushed back…

On May 31, 2021, Batista wrote to his colleagues to lament that “Google delivered to the Brazilian Senate at least 200 gigs of videos that had been deleted from YouTube by people connected to the federal government” related to a Brazilian Senate investigation of the government’s response to COVID-19.

Batista called Google’s actions “a very concerning precedent… that contradicts and weakens our stance towards privacy since we have always pushed back against requests from congressional commissions, even when involving only basic subscribe info and IPs….”

In the same email, Batista noted that a member of Congress named Gleisi Hoffmann, who presides over Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party, and who had sued Twitter for “attacks against her honor,” seeking “private data and removal of some Tweets,” had finally dropped her lawsuit.Image
"Unmask several Twitter accounts..."

In the same email, Batista noted that a court in São Paulo had demanded that Twitter “unmask several Twitter accounts… related to criticism/alleged offenses against Fernando Capez, a Brazilian professor and politician, former congressman and currently special secretary in the São Paulo Consumer Protection Agency” who was “a defendant in criminal proceedings - recently a federal court seized millions of reais from his bank account and the Tweets are related to these facts. We will therefore push back against this court order…”Image
“We won't deliver any name at this stage…”

On June 11, 2021, Batista emailed his colleagues to say that the government had opened a criminal investigation against Twitter and that Brazilian “authorities are seeking the name and address of the person responsible for conducting the case internally at Twitter…”

Batista reassured his colleagues: “We won't deliver any name at this stage…”Image
“Even though the complaint is legitimate, the requests are unreasonable”

Batista emailed his colleagues on June 14, 2021, to say that “Twitter was served last year with a 'complaint notice', which now was turned into a civil investigation against us.”

Batista explained that “The complaint was brought by Djamila Ribeiro, a Brazilian philosopher and journalist after racist offenses/hate crimes directed to her (no specific content has been provided though). Among several requests, she is seeking: i) monitoring measures of all trending topics to avoid offensive content especially against black woman; ii) disclosure of user information without court orders in racially motivated crimes; iii) message triggers in a regular basis informing people about ethical and legal parameters of responsibility for what is published on social networks; iv) standard messages/texts about such ethical and legal parameters to new users; v) payment of collective moral damages. “

Another case related to an “extreme right” blogger “akin to Alex Jones” named Allan dos Santos. Twitter wanted to suspend the user, explained Batista, but “the user's history of litigating to keep their accounts active… we worry that the inherent messiness of the internal reviews [at Twitter] could make it challenging to explain the basis of a suspension action. Therefore we've agreed to let the strike system play out, and have us take action when it is clear and unambiguous upon their next violation of our rules, which is just a matter of time considering his list of violations and recent Tweets on COVID issues/misinfo…”Image
Information “related to @CarlosBolsonaro (president's son)”

On July 2, 2021, Batista reported on an information request “related to @CarlosBolsonaro (president's son) - We received an official letter from the federal police supported by a court order seeking registration data from @CarlosBolsonaro. Therefore, we are working on a reply where we will push back as follow (i) Twitter does not collect registration data - which under BR definition refers to personal data such as professional qualification, address and full name; (ii) it is not possible to provide data relating to a specific tweet - no IP available; (iii) even if it were possible, the legal retention period of logs in BR are 6 months and it has already been exceeded - Tweets are from 2018; and (iv) the profile @CarlosBolsonaro is a verified account."Image
“There is a strong political component with this investigation”

On August 18, 2021, Batista emailed his colleagues to say that the Superior Electoral Court has demanded that the accounts of “heavy supporters of President Bolsonaro” who “have been constantly engaging in coordinated attacks against members of the Supreme Court” and “Superior Electoral Court… The court order is focused on the demonetization of these accounts - from different platforms…”

These demands appeared to be politically motivated to target pro-Bolsonaro sentiment.

“Even though this obligation initially does not touch us, the court also determined Twitter, YouTube, Twitch TV, Instagram and Facebook to: i) refrain from algorithmically suggesting profiles and videos of political content discrediting the electoral system (legitimacy of elections) in association with those users/accounts and also ii) identify the origin of specific content (we have not been served with any specific Tweet URLs).”

Twitter’s Head of Legal Diego de Lima Gualda, a colleague of Batista’s, responded saying, “There is a strong political component with this investigation and the court is trying to put pressure for compliance.”Image
The “court wants to identify account handles… and also somehow reduce engagement”

Two days later,  On August 20, 2021, Batista reported some alarming news about new demands from the Superior Electoral Court (TSE).

Batista reported that “it seems like the court wants to identify account handles that would have specifically added certain types of trending hashtags and also somehow reduce engagement of specific content on the platform (ie. refrain specific accounts from being suggested to others.”

This represented a significant escalation in the court’s anti-democratic efforts.

Batista noted that “President Bolsonaro himself and several of his supporters are being investigated in this procedure (15 Twitter account handles have been provided so far).”Image
“We are going to push back”

Brazil’s High Electoral Court (TSE), which de Moraes controls, also demanded that Twitter reveal the identities of users. On October 25, 2021, Twitter’s senior legal counsel, Rafael Batista, emailed his colleagues to let them know that the TSE was “compelling us to track down and unmask users who used specific hashtags.”

The TSE’s request was illegal, noted Batista, and so Twitter would resist the court’s order. Batista said that Twitter was “going to push back” because there was “no evidence of illegality in the use of hashtags” and because the TSE was demanding  “mass and indiscriminate disclosure of private user data, which characterizes a violation of privacy and other constitutional rights."Image
On November 26, 2021, the courts of Brazil issued sweeping censorship demands.

A court of appeals orders Twitter to “globally remove,” not just in Brazil, “specific URLs related to the plaintiff.”

The court claimed that Brazilians could find other ways to see the content, such as through a VPN, which masks a user’s location.

The court also sought to know the identities of users who were not in Brazil.

In another case, Twitter was “pushing back against an injunction that granted data provision (IP logs) to unmask 62 accounts that retweeted an original illegal content…” Of the 62 accounts, “8 accounts are not even located in Brazil…”Image
The Police are “under a lot of pressure from the Superior Electoral Court”

In March 2022, Twitter’s Head of Legal for Latin America saaid that he met with “the judge,” referring to de Moraes. He said he was surprised to find there the Federal Police (Brazil’s FBI) and technical court staff working on the hashtag investigation.

TSE pushed for private user data under the justification of “exceptional circumstances” and wanted to use Twitter as a crime precognition machine to “anticipate potential illegal activities.”
Two months later, Gualda said that the Federal Police “is under a lot of pressure from the Superior Electoral Court to provide tangible results for this investigation (remembering that in this procedure the Federal Police is supporting an investigation that is conducted by the Superior Electoral Court itself).”Image
“There is no reason for this lawsuit to be under court secrecy.”

Leading up to the 2022 presidential election in Brazil, TSE made censorship demands to prevent citizens from commenting on election policies and procedures.

On March 30, 2022, the day after de Moraes took office as president of the TSE, the TSE mandated Twitter to, within a week and under the threat of a daily fine of 50,000 BRL (US$ 10,000), supply data on the monthly trend statistics for the hashtags #VotoImpressoNAO (“PrinteVoteNo”) and #VotoDemocraticoAuditavel (“DemocraticAuditableVote”).

Additionally, the TSE demanded subscription information and IP addresses of users who used the hashtag #VotoDemocraticoAuditavel in 2021. Brazilians wanted to debate printouts to enhance their unique voting machines, but the TSE wasn’t happy about their cause and pressured Twitter to give up their personal data.

In an e-mail sent in November 2022, a Twitter lawyer detailed actions taken by Moraes and TSE during the presidential race. The judge wouldn’t explain why he ordered Twitter to remove Evangelical pastor André Valadão’s (@andrevaladao) entire account under a heavy fine.

Twitter “filed an appeal against the order”, pointing out they didn’t know why they were being ordered to do so, but complying. TSE would threaten Twitter to comply “in 1 hour” under an hourly fine of BRL 100,000 [US$ 20,000] to censor an inactive account for disinformation committed elsewhere.

TSE also targeted elected House members Carla Zambelli (@Zambelli2210) & Marcel van Hattem (@marcelvanhattem) for alleged misinformation, threatening a fine of BRL 150,000 (US$ 30,000) if Twitter did not comply within 1 hour. Twitter pushed back. Among other objections, it argued that “there is no reason for this lawsuit to be under court secrecy.”Image
“Unusual requests …. compelling us to provide… user data based on hashtag mentions”

On August 17, 2022, a member of Twitter’s legal team emailed the groups saying that Twitter “received a new court order” relating to “an inquiry with the aim to identify individuals/groups behind a potential coordination of efforts to attack the institutions and the electoral system across different platforms. President Bolsonaro himself is investigated in this process…”

She added, “We have received several unusual requests coming from this inquiry, the most recent relevant one compelling us to provide an undetermined amount of user data based on hashtag mentions. The hashtags concern a mobilization around the elections - roughly translated as #PrintedVoteNO; #DemocraticAuditableVote and #BarrosoInJail - Barroso is the former TSE President….According to the report we currently have, there were 182 tweets in the period of interest… We need the content, user handles and respective BSI data asap…”Image
“TSE’s request is clearly abusive”

“TSE’s request is clearly abusive”, Brazilian attorney and legal scholar Hugo Freitas @hugofreitas_r told us, when asked about the situation.

“Posting hashtags to promote legislative changes is completely appropriate for a democracy and it’s no crime predicted by Brazilian law.”
Three months after de Moraes became TSE’s president in August 2022, he demanded censorship.

Despite the fact that posting hashtags does not violate any specific legal statutes, Twitter complied with the court's demands to avoid substantial fines.

Brazil’s high court and Twitter removed political speech and penalized users for debating policies. In this way, the court appears to have interfered in a major presidential election.
Today: Fake News Bill For Censorship

Today, Brazil’s Censorship Industrial Complex is demanding that Congress pass “Fake News” censorship legislation. The bill would hold social media companies hostage if they didn’t comply with vague censorship requirements. The bill doesn’t define what “fake news” or “disinformation” are.

What the Fake News bill would do is require social media platforms to pay news outlets for the right to distribute their content. This is the exact same approach being pushed by governments in Australia and Canada.

De Moraes, the TSE, and Brazil’s Supreme Court openly lobbied for the legislation.

The public revolted against the censorship bill, and Congress stalled the bill in May 2023.

Then, in February of this year, the TSE unilaterally implemented the legislation, usurping the role of Congress.
No Free Speech In An Election

TSE’s censorship is an attack on the democratic process. Elections can remain free and fair only if the public is able to debate and question election laws, systems, and results. If there ever is electoral fraud in Brazil, nobody will be allowed to talk about it, if de Moraes gets his way.

For centuries, candidates have complained that the election was stolen. Hillary Clinton claimed this in 2016, Stacey Abrams claimed this in 2018, President Donald Trump claimed this in 2020, and President Jair Bolsonaro claimed this in 2022.

De Moraes wants to make such speech illegal and punish social media platforms that don’t censor it.
The Solution: First Amendment-Level Protections For Brazil

Two legal scholars, Hugo Freitas and André Marsiglia, @hugofreitas_r and @marsiglia_andre ,  recently introduced new free speech legislation aimed at bringing free speech protections in Brazil to the same high standard as is held in the United States. The bill is a “Declaration of Rights of Freedom of Expression in Brazil.”

The bill seeks to proclaim a Declaration of Free Speech Rights in Brazil, which, if enacted, would roughly align Brazilian law to that of the United States in this regard.

It proposes to repeal the criminalization of speech in all but the most extreme instances, such as true threats or incitement to imminent lawless action. In contrast, conducts such as blasphemy, contempt of authority or certain forms of hate speech and disinformation would cease to be criminalized. The protection of political speech is especially emphasized.

In tort cases, the bill seeks to reduce judicial discretion by laying out clearer standards for assessing if the speech is protected or crosses into illegal conduct. In particular, the bill repeals provisions that have been used by prosecutors and private associations to retaliate against speech by claiming compensatory damages, under allegations such as that it has caused offense to an unknown number of listeners or tarnished the reputation of broad categories of people.

Finally, the bill concerns itself with more modern forms of censorship targeting the internet. A blanket ban is imposed on the practice, now frequent in Brazil, of government blocking the access to specific social media accounts in response to speech.

More subtle forms of internet censorship are also addressed. The government is barred from censoring speech indirectly under the guise of content moderation by private platforms, following in the footsteps of recent court decisions in the US. The bill reaffirms the provisions already in place in Brazilian legislation exempting social media platforms from liability for the speech of its users in response to attempts by the government to revoke those provisions so as to force social media companies to censor preemptively according to government wishes.


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More from @shellenberger

Jun 14
Victory! Stanford Shuts Down Censorship Operation

The Stanford Internet Observatory, which led mass censorship efforts for the US government, has dismissed its leaders, Renée DiResta and Alex Stamos

Over the last 18 months, Public has extensively documented the mass censorship effort led by the Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) for the United States government. Accounts vary, but either the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) asked SIO to lead the effort or SIO’s ostensible leader, Alex Stamos, proposed the idea.

The brains of the SIO operation was Renée DiResta, an ostensibly “former” CIA employee. Senate Democrats, the New York Times, and other news media close to the Intelligence Community (IC) heavily promoted DiResta starting in 2018, when she spread disinformation exaggerating the influence of Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. In 2020 and 2021, DiResta and SIO led a DHS effort that successfully pressured social media platforms to censor disfavored views of Covid and interfere in the 2020 elections.

Now, in a major victory for free speech advocates, SIO has decided not to renew its contracts with DiResta and Stamos, who have both left the organization. A blog called “Platformer,” which is sympathetic to SIO’s censorship efforts, reported yesterday that “the lab will not conduct research into the 2024 election or other elections in the future.”

Stanford cut funding from a donor named Frank McCourt to SIO. “While SIO still had other sources of funding,” reports Platformer, the McCourt funding decision was seen by some at SIO as a clear signal that Stanford had soured on its commitment to their work.” The announcement came just two days after DiResta published a book that spreads disinformation about her critics, including me.

The dismissal of DiResta and Stamos is unlikely to be sufficient to stop them from continuing their censorship advocacy, as DiResta’s book shows. DiResta and Stamos are two of the top censorship visionaries in the United States and may find resources to continue their lobbying in some other institution. DiResta continues to enjoy fawning coverage from partisan news outlets, such as The Atlantic, which demand ever-more censorship for ideological and financial reasons. And the Supreme Court is likely to allow the kind of third-party censorship pioneered by DiResta and Stamos in a critical free speech case, Murthy v. Missouri.

But Stanford’s repudiation of DiResta and Stamos suggests that the university’s leadership realizes the reputational damage that DiResta and Stamos caused the institution. Stanford has distanced itself from the two for reasons that had nothing to do with money. Indeed, the two showed themselves adept at raising money. SIO raised $5 million from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, “which allowed Stamos and DiResta to recruit nearly a dozen staff members,” notes Platformer. “Eventually, groups like the William D. Flora Hewlett Foundation and the National Science Foundation added their support.”

And SIO was the lead group of the four groups in total that advocated censorship on behalf of DHS in 2020 and 2021. “By 2022,” notes Platformer, “SIO had become the most visible research institute” engaged in censorship advocacy in the US. “Its staff members published a combined 10 journal articles and 22 op-eds. According to a 2022 annual report, SIO was cited in the media 5,400 times — a staggering number for a new and relatively small team.”

In 2021, DiResta advocated for creating a government censorship center, which she euphemistically described a “Center of Excellence,” within the federal government. The Department of Homeland Security acted on DiResta’s proposal to create a censorship center, calling it “Disinformation Governance Board,” which the agency announced publicly in April 2022.

As such, the symbolic impact of Stanford’s dismissal of Stamos and DiResta goes far beyond those two individuals and their government-funded NGO. Indeed, it is one of the most significant free speech victories of the last 18 months, particularly considering the failure of Congress to defund DHS’s censorship arm, the Cybersecurity and Internet Security Agency (CISA), NSF’s “Track F” censorship R&D funding, and reform Section 230 to allow social media platforms to moderate their own legal content. Anyone who cares about free speech should seek to understand what happened so we can replicate the success around the world.

I first came across DiResta’s censorship advocacy while reading the Twitter Files in late 2022 and early 2023. The Files show that she and her colleagues at SIO had been regularly emailing Twitter executives to urge them to censor disfavored views. I read up on DiResta and watched videos of her speaking on various panels at places like Aspen Institute, which is also heavily funded by the US government. I was struck by how frequently people deferred to her as the expert. And, indeed, she was not only the most knowledgeable person, she was also the one who led and shaped the conversation.

This research helped me understand that DiResta wasn’t just a censorship advocate; she was also one of the main promoters of the Russiagate hoax. DiResta testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2018 about Russian influence in Trump’s 2016 election. She falsely claimed that it was significant when every mainstream political scientist who has looked at the question has concluded that it was so insignificant as to be unmeasurable.

I reached out to DiResta and requested an interview. She asked that we do it over WhatsApp and we went back and forth for several weeks. We also participated in a podcast with Sam Harris. I didn’t understand many things she was saying in our interview, and eventually, the conversation moved to a Google Doc.

Before testifying before Congress with Matt Taibbi in March 2023, I interviewed censorship researcher @MikeBenzCyber of @FFO_Freedom. Benz helped me understand what DiResta had done at SIO in 2020 and 2021 to promote censorship of disfavored views on the election and on Covid. Benz also told me that DiResta had worked for the CIA. In both my verbal and written testimony to Congress, I highlighted the role of DiResta and SIO.

DiResta responded to all of this by publishing the entire interview we conducted on Google Docs. This did not bother me. However, it is notable that, while I kept my word to keep our conversation off-the-record until she approved of the version to make public, she went ahead and published without asking permission.

I then published a long article, “Why Renée DiResta Leads The Censorship Industry,” at Public, followed by a video, “Inside The Censorship Industrial Complex,” where I walked readers through a video she had made for DHS on “the power of partnerships.”

We weren’t the only ones criticizing Stanford for hosting SIO. Benz, as noted above, did much of the groundbreaking work exposing SIO. Rep. Jim Jordan’s House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of Government subpoenaed SIO’s work in April 2023 and conducted a transcribed interview with Stamos. Thanks to these subpoenas, we were able to reveal the DHS’s violation of the First Amendment and its interference in the elections.

In response, Stamos, DiResta, and Stanford have all played the victim. “The politically motivated attacks against our research on elections and vaccines have no merit, and the attempts by partisan House committee chairs to suppress First Amendment-protected research are a quintessential example of the weaponization of government,” Stamos and DiResta said in a statement they gave Platformer.

"Stanford remains deeply concerned about efforts, including lawsuits and congressional investigations, that chill freedom of inquiry,” a university spokesperson told Platformer.

But it’s clear from their collective behavior that the only people seeking to chill freedom of inquiry were the ones secretly demanding mass censorship by social media platforms, not those of us exposing such demands.

What lessons can we draw? First, it is important to identify each country’s real leaders of the Censorship Industrial Complex. Often, there are many NGOs, news media organizations, and government agencies conspiring to suppress free speech. At first, they appear to be a single blob. But by tracing their actions over time, and watching their leaders talk in videos, it soon becomes clear who is really in charge. Other people were involved in the DHS censorship efforts, but it quickly became obvious to all of us that DiResta and SIO were more influential than the others.

Second, it is important for free speech advocates to share information and work together. We would not have understood what SIO was up to had it not been for Benz’s research. We were able to draw more attention to it with our Twitter Files testimony. And it was thanks to both that Jordan’s committee was able to take action.

Third, and finally, it’s important for free speech advocates and investigative journalists to remain steadfast against efforts to intimidate us. DiResta and the news media have repeatedly attacked Benz for his past activities and work in the Trump administration and suggested that we are somehow implicated. But Stanford’s action vindicates Benz and us and shows the importance of not being intimidated by McCarthyite guilt-by-association attacks.

As such, the SIO debacle should change how we view Stanford and the secretive war on free speech by the Censorship Industrial Complex and what’s required to defeat it. Sunlight remains the best disinfectant. And the price of freedom remains eternal vigilance.

Watch as I explain how Renée DiResta oversaw a mass censorship scheme for the Stanford Internet Observatory.
Why Renee DiResta Leads The Censorship Industry

How a former CIA fellow came to lead US government efforts to stamp out disfavored speech on the Internet

by @shellenberger
Renee DiResta, CIA Fellow turned Stanford Internet Observatory research manager

Originally published April 3, 2023

Since the 2016 elections, politicians, journalists, and many others have raised the alarm about “foreign election influence” and “disinformation,” demanding greater “content moderation” by social media platforms. It is too easy, they argued, for foreign and malign actors to quickly “go viral” at low cost, leaving the good guys unable to correct bad information. We must become more “resilient” to disinformation.

It’s now clear that all of that rhetoric was cover for a sweeping censorship effort by the federal government and government contractors.

Since December, a small but growing group of journalists, analysts, and researchershave documented the rise of a “Censorship Industrial Complex”, a network of U.S. government agencies, and government-funded think tanks. Over the last six years, these entities have coordinated their efforts to both spread disinformation and to censor journalists, politicians, and ordinary Americans. They have done so directly and indirectly, including by playing good cop/bad cop with Twitter and Facebook. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of people have been involved in these censorship and disinformation campaigns in the U.S., Canada, and the UK.

We now know, thanks to the Twitter Files, emails released by the Attorney Generals of Missouri and Louisiana, and research by others, that the Censorship Industrial Complex is violating the First Amendment by coordinating with government agencies and receiving government funding to pressure and help social media companies to both censor information, including accurate information, while spreading disinformation, including conspiracy theories.

And such efforts are continuing if not accelerating. At Biden’s “Summit for Democracy” last week, US allies in Europe demanded that Facebook censor “false narratives” and news that would “weaken our support to Ukraine.” Facebook agreed.

One of the most intelligent, influential, and fascinating public-facing leaders of the Censorship Industrial Complex is Renee DiResta, Research Manager of the Stanford Internet Observatory. Diresta has, more than anyone else, made the public case for greater government-led and government-funded censorship, writing for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Wired, and other major publications, and through public speaking, including on podcasts with Joe Rogan and Sam Harris.

To many journalists and policymakers, DiResta is one of the good guys, advocating as a citizen and hobbyist for greater U.S. government action to fight disinformation. DiResta has argued that the U.S. has been unprepared to fight the “information war” with Russia and other nations in her bylined articles for the New York Times, Washington Post, Wired, and many others. And in her 2018 Senate testimony DiResta advocated “legislation that defines and criminalizes foreign propaganda” and for allowing law enforcement to “prosecute foreign propaganda.”

DiResta, as much as any other public person in the Western world, has sounded the alarm, repeatedly and loudly, for stronger governmental and non-governmental coordination to get social media platforms to censor more information. “The Russian disinformation operations that affected the 2016 United States presidential election are by no means over,” wrote DiResta in the New York Times in December 2018. “Russian interference through social media is a chronic, widespread, and identifiable condition that we must now aggressively manage.”

In 2021, DiResta advocated for creating a government censorship center, which she euphemistically referred to as a “Center of Excellence,” within the federal government. “Creation of a ‘Center of Excellence’ within the federal government,” she said, “could tie in a federal lead with platforms, academics, and nonprofits to stay ahead of these emerging narratives and trends.” DiResta argued that her censorship center could also help spread propaganda. “As narratives emerge,” she explained, “the Center of Excellence could deploy experts to relevant federal agencies to help prepare pre-bunking and messaging, to identify trusted voices in communities, and to build coalitions to respond.”

Did the Department of Homeland Security act on DiResta’s proposal to create a censorship center? It did. But DHS didn’t call it a “Center of Excellence.” Instead, it called it a “Disinformation Governance Board,” which the agency announced publicly in April 2022.

DiResta’s rise to the highest levels of the U.S. intelligence community struck me back in December of last year as improbably meteoric. DiResta had repeatedly described her involvement in fighting disinformation as having started in 2013 when she became a new mom and grew concerned about spreading anti-vaccine information online. “In 2013,” she explained to Kara Swisher, “I had my first kid… You know, you have to do that preschool thing here, you’ve got to get them on a list a year early. I didn’t want to be in a preschool with a bunch of anti-vaxxers, candidly.” Two years later she was helping to fight ISIS online and by 2018 she was testifying before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.

While these suspicions nagged at me, I waved them away because DiResta is brilliant, was already working in high tech, and was succeeding in the new field of fighting foreign disinformation on social media platforms. Of all the people in various government agencies and government-funded think tanks making the case for U.S. government censorship, DiResta is, by far, the most persuasive. She received a degree in computer science in 2004, worked as a trader at Jane Street until 2011, was a high-tech VC until 2014, and founded a cloud-based shipping management software company that was acquired in 2021.

And, given the historical dominance of high tech by founders in their 20s and 30s, and the challenges of older people to understand social media, I convinced myself that a person with DiResta’s limited experience battling disinformation online might leapfrog over the hundreds if not thousands of researchers, analysts, and intelligence experts who conduct research and combat foreign disinformation for the U.S. government and government-funded think tanks and academic institutions.

But then I learned that DiResta had worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The journalist Matt Taibbi pointed me to the investigative research into the censorship industry by Mike Benz, a former State Department official in charge of cybersecurity. Benz had discovered a little-viewed video of her supervisor at the Stanford Internet Observatory, Alex Stamos, mentioning in an off-hand way that DiResta had previously “worked for the CIA.”

In her response to my criticism of her on Joe Rogan, DiResta acknowledged but then waved away her CIA connection. “My purported secret-agent double life was an undergraduate student fellowship at CIA, ending in 2004 — years prior to Twitter’s founding,” she wrote. “I’ve had no affiliation since.”

But DiResta’s acknowledgment of her connection to the CIA is significant, if only because she hid it for so long. DiResta’s LinkedIn includes her undergraduate education at Stony Brook University, graduating in 2004, and her job as a trader at Jane Street from October 2004 to May 2011, but does not mention her time at the CIA.

And, notably, the CIA describes its fellowships as covering precisely the issues in which DiResta is an expert. “As an Intelligence Analyst Intern for CIA, you will work on teams alongside full-time analysts, studying and evaluating information from all available sources—classified and unclassified—and then analyzing it to provide timely and objective assessments to customers such as the President, National Security Council, and other U.S. policymakers.”

Unlike DiResta, Stamos didn’t appear to believe that DiResta’s time working for the CIA was too trivial, or too far in the past, to bother mentioning. When Stamos introduced DiResta to a Stanford audience, he described her as having “worked for,” not merely “interned” with, the CIA.

Is DiResta telling the truth when she claims she’s had “no affiliation since”? Perhaps. But one of the things I have heard from multiple people, including people within the intelligence community, is, “Nobody ever retires from the intelligence community.” Such a claim is, no doubt, exaggerated. But there is truth to it. Moreover, one of the main characteristics of spycraft is the deployment of agents and assets not publicly affiliated with the CIA or other intelligence agencies.

A large amount of CIA involvement in content moderation requests was discovered through Twitter Files. “CIA officials attended at least one conference with Twitter in the summer of 2020,” writes Taibbi, “and companies like Twitter and Facebook received ‘OGA [Other Government Agencies, which is code for CIA] briefings,’ at their regular ‘industry meetings held in conjunction with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

And it is striking how many former CIA Directors are involved in the censorship industry. Seven former CIA chiefs are on the board of The Atlantic Council, the organization that partnered with DiResta’s Stanford Internet Observatory on the Election Integrity Partnership and Virality Project. The Chief Strategy Officer and the Director of Federal Programs at Graphika, another DiResta partner organization, are former CIA officials.

Whatever DiResta’s true history and continuing affiliations, she is without question one of the most, if not the most, influential leaders within the network of for-profit and nonprofit organizations and government agencies that comprise the Censorship-Industrial Complex. As research director of Stanford Internet Observatory, DiResta was the key leader and spokesperson of both the 2021 “Virality Project,” against covid vaccine “misinformation” and the 2020 “Election Integrity Project.”

The question now is why. If we hope to defund and dismantle the Censorship Industrial Complex, we must understand what makes its leaders tick, why they rose to the top, and how they can be defeated. Who is Renee DiResta, and why is she, and not somebody else, the public-facing leader of the censorship industry and a trusted advisor to Democrats in Congress? Why is she doing it? And what will it take to defund the Stanford Internet Observatory, dismantle the censorship industry, and disempower DiResta?

To answer those questions, we first need to understand how DiResta got away with and was even rewarded for participating in one of the most outrageous and likely illegal, election disinformation campaigns in recent history.

A Case Of The Bot Calling The Kettle Black
Renee DiResta went to work for political disinformation firm New Knowledge in January 2018, after it had waged a disinformation campaign in Alabama a few weeks earlier. The news media, and leading Senate and House Democrats, have promoted her as a disinformation expert ever since.📷

In 2017, the billionaire founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, donated  $750,000 to American Engagement Technologies (AET), an election campaigns consultancy founded by a former Obama administration official. Of that money, $100,000 went to another political consulting firm, “New Knowledge,” to run a social media disinformation operation to help Alabama Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones defeat Republican Roy Moore in a December special election.

New Knowledge ran something called “Project Birmingham,” which created fake Russian Twitter social media accounts that followed Moore, resulting in news stories that the Kremlin was backing Moore in the race.  A 12-page New Knowledge memo dated Dec. 15, 2017 described the operation. “We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet,” the report says.

DiResta was intimately involved with both of the key organizations overseeing the Birmingham disinformation effort. She told the Washington Post that she helped AET get financial backing from Hoffman and took a seat on the board of AET. Then, in January 2018, two weeks after the New Knowledge memo, DiResta became the organization’s Research Director.

The memo claimed that the work of New Knowledge had shifted enough votes for Jones to win the election, which had been decided by fewer than 22,000 voters. How? Through the use of disinformation to “radicalize Democrats, suppress unpersuadable Republicans (‘hard Rs’) and faction moderate Republicans by advocating for write-in candidates,” said the memo.

New Knowledge also “planted the idea that a Russian botnet amplified the Moore campaign on social media. We then tied that botnet to the Moore campaign digital director, making it appear that he had purchased the accounts.”  Wrote the Washington Post, “During the campaign, journalists wrote stories about Twitter accounts that appeared to be Russian followers of Moore.”

During the same period, 2017 - 2018, New Knowledge helped a former FBI agent named Clint Watts, and a U.S. government-funded think tank, Alliance for Securing Democracy, run yet another disinformation campaign, one which smeared ordinary Americans as Russian bots and then used that disinformation to generate dozens of news stories, including for CNN (“Russian bots are using #WalkAway to try to wound Dems in midterms”) and the New York Times (“After Florida School Shooting, Russia’s Bot Army Pounced”).

Hamilton 68 offended even Twitter’s chief censor, Yoel Roth. As context, it’s important to remember that Roth loathed Trump. In 2017, Roth tweeted that he believed there were “ACTUAL NAZIS IN THE WHITE HOUSE.” But when it came to evaluating Hamilton 68, Roth was shocked by the flagrant effort to smear work-a-day conservatives as Russians. “Virtually any conclusion drawn from [Hamilton 68] will take conversations in conservative circles on Twitter and accuse them of being Russian.” Roth urged his colleagues to “call this out on the bullshit it is.”

Unfortunately, Roth’s supervisors worried about the political consequences and let New Knowledge’s Hamilton 68 disinformation continue. “We have to be careful in how much we push back on ASD publicly,” wrote Twitter executive Emily Horne in February 2018. Notes Jacob Siegel in Tablet. “Horne had previously worked at the State Department, handling the ‘digital media and think tank outreach” portfolio. According to her LinkedIn, she ‘worked closely with foreign policy reporters covering [ISIS] … and executed communications plans relating to Counter-[ISIS] Coalition activities.’ Put another way, she had a background in counterterrorism operations similar to Watts’ but with more of an emphasis on spinning the press and civil society groups.”

Siegel notes similarly suspicious timing for the arrival of Horne. “From there she became the director for strategic communications for Obama’s National Security Council, only leaving to join Twitter in June 2017,” writes Siegel. “Sharpen the focus on that timeline, and here’s what it shows: Horne joined Twitter one month before the launch of ASD, just in time to advocate for protecting a group run by the kind of power brokers who held the keys to her professional future.”

Naturally, everyone involved denied involvement. DiResta claimed “she became concerned with the opaqueness of the project and severed ties with” AET.  But if DiResta genuinely felt New Knowledge’s creation of the Birmingham hoax was so terrible, why did to to work for it, and help it raise $11 million? And why did the Senate Intelligence Committee recruit DiResta and New Knowledge write a report claiming Russians had elected Trump?

New Knowledge and another group, Graphika, pointed to evidence, in their reports, that ten million people in the U.S. had seen social media ads. DiResta’s findings were widely respected and publicized. Former director of national intelligence James Clapper called the evidence that Russia had influenced the election "staggering." University of Pennsylvania communication professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson claimed it proved Trump would not have been president without the Russians.

But there is no evidence that the Russians influenced the 2016 campaign, much less that they won it for Trump. Conservative voters did not consume much social media compared to news media in 2016. While 40 percent of Trump voters said, Fox was their primary news source, only 7 percent said Facebook.

“People promoting the idea that Russia swung the election will often cite that Russian Facebook posts reached about 126 million Americans,” said a team of researchers who debunked DiResta’s disinformation. “But that refers to anyone whose news feed ever included such a piece of content, regardless of whether they saw it, or whether it may have been drowned out in their minds by hundreds of other posts.” Moreover, 56% of the Russian troll farm’s pages appeared after the election while 25% were seen by no one.

DiResta has constantly sought to emphasize, creepily, that “fighting disinformation” is not a free speech issue but rather a national security one. In her 2018 Senate Testimony, DiResta said fighting disinformation “is not about arbitrating truth, nor is it a question of free speech.” Rather, she claimed, it is “a cybersecurity issue, it is an ongoing national security issue, and it must be addressed through a collaboration between governments responsible for the safety of their citizens and private industry responsible for the integrity of their products and platforms” [my emphasis].

DiResta consistently demands censorship to prevent harm. Caring, or protecting people from harm, is a core value for liberals, according to social psychologists such as Jonathan Haidt. And harm has traditionally been the main restriction to free speech. The Supreme Court has upheld strong First Amendment protections and modestly constrained them in cases causing harm, like fraud and immediate incitement of violence.

“One of the things that the platforms are looking at now is this notion of healthy discourse,” DiResta told Kara Swisher in an interview published at Vox. “What are the metrics for healthy discourse?... I know some of the [liberal philanthropic] foundations are also working on thinking about how do we quantify this…”

And nobody caused more harm than President Donald J. Trump. “I think that the particularly belligerent, constantly hostile, constantly outrageous tone that [Trump] prefers is deeply harmful,” DiResta told Swisher.

DiResta thinks this question isn’t just important for fighting “foreign disinformation.” Rather, what content “we” should “let” remain online is a question she believes the U.S. government must decide for every major social and political issue in society since her overarching framework is the legitimacy of governing institutions.

In her 2021 video for the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Diresta says, “Our team at [Stanford Internet Observatory] SIO and CISA’s team have done some pioneering work in partnership thinking.” What is “partnership thinking”? It’s the thinking done by DiResta and other self-appointed censors for how the government can censor without violating the First Amendment.

But if DiResta and her colleagues at CISA violate the First Amendment, why mention it? Why not simply avoid mention of it altogether? Part of the reason is likely to assuage concerns among government officials, including elected ones, who approved the funding for the Censorship Industrial Complex in the first place.

But another reason has to do with controlling what is acceptable to say and think. “The Overton window is the collection of societally acceptable political opinions,” noted DiResta. “So, shifting the Overton window or expanding the Overton window means increasing or changing the types of positions, political positions, that are considered mainstream or that are considered respectable, some things that we’re willing to discuss.” As such, DiResta’s labeling of Republican leader Devin Nunes as a “crackpot” for his views of vaccines and Benz as a “crank” is not accidental, but a deliberate strategy to marginalize.

But there is something else, more culturally and class-based, which is her attitude that she, and other elites, should decide what information people are exposed to. Consider how DiResta talks about whether or not the government should allow certain content online. “The way that the intelligence communities think about leaving hostile content up online, letting the ISIS accounts stay, for example, are you getting more information than you otherwise would?”

Why, in the end, is it Renee DiResta, and not somebody else, the leader of the Censorship Industrial Complex? A big part of the reason is because she is the intellectual architect, and most articulate public advocate, of government funding of, and cooperation with, non-governmental actors, such as Stanford Internet Observatory, to increase social media censorship of disfavored views and disfavored users.

But there is another, deeper reason. Like other American elites, DiResta believes that it is the role of people like her to control what information the public is allowed to consume, lest they elect a populist ogre like Donald Trump, decide not to get vaccinated, or don’t accept whatever happens to be mainstream liberal opinion on everything from climate change to transgenderism to the business dealings of the presidents family.

How The Censorship Industry Ends
Visit Since December, a small but growing group of journalists, analysts, and researchers have documented the rise of a “Censorship Industrial Complex”, a network of U.S. government agencies and government-funded think tanks. to learn how to defeat it.

Dismantling the taxpayer-funded censorship industry and disempowering self-appointed censors like DiResta won’t be easy. Much of the mainstream corporate news media is sympathetic to or affiliated with the Censorship Industrial Complex. They have showered DiResta with puff pieces. They refuse to cover the Twitter Files or the Facebook Files. The Stanford Internet Observatory is receiving large government and private sector grants. And the news media, the censorship industry, and a shocking number of Democrats in Congress support government censorship of social media platforms.

But the backlash to the censorship industry is growing. Jacob Siegel’s long essay in Tablet, along with the work of Benz and Taibbi, has put into historical context the censorship industry’s rise to power. Our appearances in Congress, and on independent podcasts like Joe Rogan’s, have been seen by millions of Americans. And, let’s face it, the American people don’t want elites like DiResta deciding what they can and can’t read, and not simply because it’s grotesquely unconstitutional.

And now, DiResta has responded defensively to my criticisms and, in the process, has issued new, easily-disproved lies. For example, DiResta claimed, “Shellenberger… never asked me about these ‘undisclosed CIA ties.’”

That claim is false....Image
Read 4 tweets
Jun 5
CBS' Lesley Stahl of "60 Minutes" said in October, 2020 that Hunter Biden's "laptop... can't be verified." That was false. It could be and was. And, according to the journalist who verified it, @peterschweizer, CBS and Stahl could have done so before she interviewed Trump.
Me: It took you two and a half weeks — you and your staff — of how many people?

Peter Schweitzer: We had six people working on that.

Michael: Okay, so if someone had more people on it, they might have been able to get it done in what — a week? Is that being that generous enough?

Schweitzer: You could have very easily within a week run a story that a laptop has emerged that has purported to be Hunter Biden's. We've not completely verified its authenticity. But it does strangely correspond with these government records that were released about a week before the laptop came out.

They do this sort of stuff all the time. They took the anonymous [UK spy Christopher Steele] dossier [suggesting Trump was colluding with Russia] that they didn't know who the author of it was and they were reporting on it as an anonymous dossier. And yet they're saying that this laptop, that you can verify through third parties, "We're not gonna cover"?

Michael: So even if the New York Times or the mainstream media had just gone off the New York Post, if they'd only heard about it the first time from the New York Post, they potentially could have done a story by October 21st?

Peter Schweitzer: Absolutely. There's no question they could have
Here is the false claim by Stahl that the laptop couldn't be verified.

Read 4 tweets
Jun 5
Free Speech Victory!

Only Elon Musk's X stood up to the censors in Australia, and now they've won

Around the world, governments are trying to censor the Internet, not just for their own citizens but for everyone.

This was dismissed as a conspiracy theory until late April, when the Australian government demanded that social media platforms take down a violent video, not just in Australia but everywhere.

All of the social media platforms, including Facebook and Google, complied with the Australian government’s demand except for Elon Musk’s X, which took the case to court.

In response, Australia’s Prime Minister said Musk "thinks he's above the law” and that he found “it extraordinary that X chose not to comply and are trying to argue their case.” A Senator from Australia called for Musk to be jailed.

But Musk’s principled defense of free speech was vindicated a few hours ago when an Australian court ruled in Musk’s favor, and Australia’s top censor, known as an “eSafety Commissioner,” dropped her lawsuit.

This free-speech victory isn’t the end of the story. Australia, like governments around the world, is determined to expand government censorship. We can expect they’ll be back with fresh censorship demands any day now.

But this is just the free speech victory we needed right now. It comes two weeks before a major free speech event in Dublin on June 18, where Russell Brand will join me in supporting our Irish friends in their efforts to kill a hate speech law, which would allow the police to invade people’s homes and search their phones and computers.

And the day after that, I am bringing journalists and free speech advocates from around the world to London to build our movement.

We owe Musk a debt of gratitude for fighting for free speech. Actions speak louder than words, and Musk has demonstrated through his actions that he will defend freedom of speech.

Unfortunately, Facebook and Google have once again demonstrated their cowardice and unreliability. As the Covid pandemic showed, they are willing to work with governments to censor their fellow citizens in violation of our constitutions and our fundamental human rights.

It’s time for change. The whole world can now see who is fighting for free speech and who is fighting for censorship. We need to keep up our momentum. Please consider making a donation to our efforts to build the free speech movement worldwide.


Read 6 tweets
Jun 2
Ever since Donald Trump emerged as a presidential contender nine years ago, America’s most esteemed scholars and journalists have argued that he was violating democratic norms. Trump, they said, was ignoring the stabilizing, unwritten rules and values of American politics. This was evident in his vulgar language, vilification of immigrants, criticisms of the press, lack of cooperation with the intelligence community, and refusal to accept the 2020 election results.

But the Democrats’ relentless effort to imprison Trump has undermined the rule of law, faith in the criminal justice system, and democratic norms more than anything Trump has ever done.

According to multiple credible sources, President Barack Obama’s Director of the CIA, in the summer of 2016, illegally mobilized foreign spy agencies to target 26 Trump advisors to claim, falsely, that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin controlled Trump.

Then, in January 2017, after Trump had been elected but before he took office, the U.S. Intelligence Community falsely claimedthat Putin had favored the election of Trump when, in reality, the intelligence showed that Putin favored Hillary Clinton.

After taking office, current and former US government intelligence operatives and Democrats falsely claimed that Russian disinformation on social media had resulted in Trump’s election and worked with the Department of Homeland Security to censor social media platforms.

None of this is a defense of Trump. He uses extreme and inflammatory rhetoric, particularly about immigrants, that I strongly disagree with. He was wrong to deny and try to change the results of the 2020 elections. And I think people are right to fear that, if he were re-elected, he could weaponize the government to exact revenge on his political enemies.

But that fear is further proof of the danger of Democrats weaponizing the government. Democrats went far beyond anything Trump did when it came to abusing their political power. After the Supreme Court ruled that Biden could not legally forgive student loans, he did so anyway. By contrast, Trump did not violate any Supreme Court rulings.

It’s true that Trump has criticized judges, journalists, and intelligence agencies, but why is that a bad thing? We have a separation of powers for a reason.

As for the intelligence agencies, they broke the law multiple times in targeting Trump. As for the news media, they deserve criticism for losing the public’s trust after lying about everything from the origins of Covid to the efficacy of the Covid vaccine to the Russiagate hoax.

Or consider the prosecution of Trump for supposedly taking and holding onto classified documents. It’s not obvious that Trump put national security in greater danger than Biden. There is evidence that the Biden administration worked with the National Archives and Department of Justice to demand the confrontation. And there is the possibility that the raid was motivated in order to recover documents related to the Russiagate hoax.

And the abuse of the court system by Democrats in an effort to incarcerate Trump and keep him off the ballot is far more of a violation of norms than anything Trump ever dreamed of.

The recent felony conviction of Trump for falsifying business records relies on the idea that he misclassified campaign payments. Democrats say, “Nobody is above the law,” which is true. But Democrats are wrong to ignore the fact that prosecutors are constantly making choices about whether to pursue certain cases over others. Indeed, Hillary Clinton was found to have mislabeled payments related to the Steele dossier during her 2016 campaign, and she was never prosecuted. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) merely fined Clinton and the Democratic National Convention (DNC)) for this misconduct.

In fact, everything about New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s recent conviction of Trump is abnormal. For starters, Bragg campaigned on the promise to prosecute Trump. He turned the misdemeanor of falsifying business records into a felony by tying it to election interference. The case was so weak that both the Department of Justice and the former DA refused to prosecute it.

The judge in the case donated to Biden and his daughter is the president of a Democratic Party fundraising firm whose clients include Rep. Adam Schiff, who led the Russiagate hoax. The judge told the jurors that they didn’t need to agree on what crime Trump intended to commit by falsifying records.

The case confused even legal experts. “At the start of closing arguments,” wrote legal scholar Jonathan Turley, “most honest observers were still wondering what the prosecutors were alleging as to the crime that Trump was allegedly concealing with the falsification of business records.”

Even CNN’s top legal scholar, Elie Honig, who is also a former colleague of Bragg, said the trial violated norms. “Prosecutors Got Trump But They Contorted the Law,” explained Honig in New York Magazine. “The charges against Trump are obscure and nearly entirely unprecedented,” he said. “In fact, no state prosecutor— in New York, or Wyoming, or anywhere — has ever charged federal election laws as a direct or predicate state crime against anyone for anything. None. Ever.”

All of this is a radical change from the ideals of the Democratic Party just a few years ago. In the 1970s and 1980s, Democrats fought to restrict and reform the intelligence community so that it would stop spying on American citizens for their political activities. Democrats defended a high standard for free speech, including the right of Nazis to march through neighborhoods of Holocaust survivors. And since the 1990s, Democrats have raised the alarm about the abuse of prosecutorial power and elected progressive prosecutors, including Bragg, to reduce prosecutions of nonviolent crimes.

Today, Democrats are pioneering new ways to weaponize the government....
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Read 5 tweets
May 29
We should block the puberty of children confused about their gender, say @JoeBiden @SecBecerra & @GavinNewsom. But we should not and must not. Children cannot give consent to sterility and loss of sexual function. Puberty is a human right. And now, finally, the UK government has recognized this and halted all prescriptions of puberty blockers, including in private clinics.

While this is ostensibly temporary, it could and should become permanent.

Bravo to PM @RishiSunak, UK Health Secretary @VictoriaAtkins and the UK folks who fought hard to make it happen including @jk_rowling @HJoyceGender @MForstaterImage
Thank you, Health Secretary @VictoriaAtkins
The mistreatment of children confused about their gender is one of the greatest medical scandals in history. If you have any doubt about this, read the internal files from the main "gender medicine" activist organization, WPATH.

Read 10 tweets
May 23

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is the most famous of the 18 US government agencies that comprise the Intelligence Community (IC) of the United States of America. Unlike the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the law strictly prohibits CIA employees or contractors from spying upon or running clandestine operations against American citizens on US soil.

But now, a new Twitter Files investigation reveals that a member of the Board of Trustees of the CIA’s mission-driven venture capital firm and ostensibly “former” IC and CIA analysts were involved in a 2021-2022 effort to take over Twitter’s content management system.

The effort also involved:

— a long-time IC contractor and senior Department of Defense R&D official who spent years developing technologies to detect whistleblowers (“insider threats”) like Edward Snowden and Wikileaks’ leakers;

— the proposed head of the DHS’ aborted Disinformation Governance Board, Nina Jankowicz, who aided US military and NATO “hybrid war” operations in Europe;

— Jim Baker, who, as FBI General Counsel, helped start the Russiagate hoax, and, as Twitter’s Deputy General Counsel, urged Twitter executives to censor The New York Post story about Hunter Biden.

These existing or former IC employees, contractors, or intermediaries weren’t satisfied with simply controlling Twitter. They also wanted to use PayPal, Amazon Web Services, and GoDaddy in a totalizing effort to de-platform, de-monetize, and excommunicate from the Internet entirely those individuals that the IC et al. deems to be a threat.

There is much that we still do not know about the effort. We do not know if officials within the CIA or any other IC organization ran the operation. It is possible that the only individuals involved in the effort were the ones we discovered. And none of the individuals involved responded to our request for information except for one.

But thousands of pages of Twitter Files and documents contained therein paint a clear picture of an organized operation by existing or former IC employees and contractors, using well-established IC tradecraft, to take control of Twitter’s content moderation.

Our investigation comes at a moment when governments and intelligence agencies around the world are stepping up their efforts to monitor and censor their citizens. It thus has large implications for policymakers and the public in Western nations that look to the US as a model for free speech and citizen control of the military.

This is a joint Public-Racket investigation. The authors are @Shellenberger @MTaibbi and @GalexyBrane. As always, the only condition we agreed to in publishing this was to first publish on X. At the end of this thread, we explain why and how this investigation began.

Here we go...
Nina Jankowicz And The Alethea Group

Before the IC’s attempt to infiltrate Twitter and control its content moderation, several of the operatives involved made the case for treating “disinformation” as a security threat that requires intelligence and military tactics to combat.

On June 11, 2020, a little-known book publisher (“I.B. Tauris”) published Nina Jankowicz’s How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict, which argues for “info war” like the kind the US government waged in Ukraine and Eastern Europe.
Nina Jankowicz (Getty Images)

In her book, Jankowicz compares the lack of regulation of speech on social media regulations to the lack of government regulation of automobiles in the 1960s. She calls for a “cross-platform” and public-private approach, so whatever actions are taken are taken by Google, Facebook, and Twitter, simultaneously.

Jankowicz points to Europe as the model for regulating speech. “Germany’s NetzDG law requires social media companies and other content hosts to remove ‘obviously illegal’ speech within twenty-four hours,” she says, “or face a fine of up to $50 million.”

By contrast, in the US, she laments, “Congress has yet to pass a bill imposing even the most basic of regulations related to social media and election advertising.”

The purpose of her book is to sound the alarm and offer a vision.

“The Biden-Harris administration can, and should, take up many of the solutions outlined in this book,” she writes. If the West is to win the “information war,” it needs a whole-of-society response, like the US and NATO used in Eastern Europe. She praises a NATO cyber security expert for having created a “Center of Excellence.”

If that term sounds familiar to close observers of the Censorship Industrial Complex, it might be because Renée Diresta of the Stanford Internet Observatory, in 2021, promoted a “Center of Excellence” in a Department of Homeland Security video she recorded, in which she made the case for the Disinformation Governance Board Jankowicz would later, briefly, head up.

One year later, Jankowicz would work with an anti-disinformation consulting firm to Twitter staffed by “former” IC analysts. Its name was Alethea Group.Image
“A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News”

On July 28, 2020, a little-known teen and young adult book publisher released True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News, by Cindy Otis, a former CIA analyst.

“I had wanted to work for the CIA almost my whole life,” she writes. “Almost all governments, including the United States, have used fake news as a weapon to influence events in other countries.”
One year later, she would become a senior analyst for Alethea Group.

We did not hear back from Cindy Otis. However, Jankowicz told us over email that Otis “led research at Alethea through July 2021.” Jankowicz said, “My full time employment with Alethea began September 13, 2021. Ms. Otis left Alethea prior to that period. To my knowledge, she has not been employed with Alethea since that time.”

“My work with Alethea Group as a consultant (summer 2021) was narrowly focused on my subject matter expertise related to Russia,” she said. “I conducted Russian language translation and provided cultural analysis. When I joined Alethea as an employee (fall 2021) my work was entirely focused on public products: Changes to Alethea’s website, editing public reports, liaising with media, etc.”

But that claim contradicts Alethea’s Statement of Work contract with Twitter, which lists her as “Technical Research Director” for work relating to Twitter’s management of misinformation during the 2020 election, and specifically a “retrospective analysis of how then President Trump or other key figures may have violated Twitters [sic] policies, or otherwise leveraged the platform in a way that may have contributed to key events…”

Alethea Group founder, Lisa Kaplan, told us that Jankowicz “was never given the title Technical Research Director, that is a reference to a labor category for a contract.” Added Kaplan, “We respect client confidentiality and do not discuss relationships with our customers. In reviewing Nina’s timesheets she did provide support to one client that I cannot disclose, however I can confirm that while she was employed as the Director for External Affairs, Nina never conducted work at Alethea on behalf of Twitter.”

When shown the Statement of Work listing her as “Supplier Personnel,” Jankowicz said, “I have never seen this document before. A statement of work is generally a speculative document that informs clients of potential staffing and work plans. They are usually crafted to allow contractors a degree of flexibility in implementation by listing staff even if they are not assigned to a particular project in case they might do future work for that project. I assume this is what happened in this case.”

In fact, the Statement of Work between Alethea and Twitter was a formal contract between the two firms, signed by Alethea’s Founder and CEO and Twitter’s Senior Director and Associate General Counsel, and the contract specifies, “Any changes to the above listed Personnel must be approved by Twitter in writing.” There is no record in the Twitter Files of any chance to personnel.

Jankowicz added, “Ms. Otis and I were friends and colleagues prior to my short stint there and remain friends and colleagues. Yes, I knew Ms. Otis had worked — emphasis on the past tense — at the CIA. That does not constitute a ‘relationship’ with the intelligence community.”

In the acknowledgments to True or False, Otis thanks someone named Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, who also blurbs her book, which he calls a “guidebook to learning from the past with actionable solutions to help you save our future."Image
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