Rep. Schiff Pressured Twitter to Ban Journalist, New Messages Show

Rep. Schiff Pressured Twitter to Ban Journalist, New Messages Show
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) looks on during a hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Capitol breach on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 16, 2022. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

A top Democrat pressured Twitter to ban a journalist from the social media platform, according to newly released messages.

Rep. Adam Schiff’s (D-Calif.) office pressured Twitter in 2020 to suspend investigative journalist Paul Sperry’s account, the messages show.

Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee at the time, wanted “many accounts” allegedly linked to QAnon suspended, including Sperry’s, one message shows.

Schiff’s office claimed that Sperry and the other accounts had “repeatedly promoted false QAnon conspiracies and harassed [redacted].”

QAnon refers to a movement of people who promote conspiracy theories related to government officials and other elite figures, some of which have turned out to be true.

The message also shows Schiff’s office wanting the removal of “any and all content” about staff on the House Intelligence Committee, including posts, shared content, and reactions to that content.

The message, an internal Twitter email made public by journalist Matt Taibbi, shows a Twitter official saying “this isn’t feasible/we don’t do this” to the latter request.

Regarding the request to ban Sperry and the other accounts, the official said, “We'll review these accounts again but I believe [redacted] mentioned only one actually qualified for suspension.”

Schiff’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment, including whether the California lawmaker pressured any other platforms to ban journalists.

Sperry said on Twitter that Schiff “used his power as head of House Intel to muscle Twitter into banning a journalist” and suggested that the actions stemmed from his reporting on Schiff’s connection to the whistleblower who triggered the impeachment process against former President Donald Trump.

Schiff claimed that he didn’t have “direct contact” with the whistleblower, but his spokesman said later that the person communicated with the House Intelligence Committee. Schiff said he regretted his choice of words.
Sperry was ultimately banned by Twitter in February 2021, about three months after the newly revealed message. He was told that his account violated Twitter’s rules, but he wasn’t informed how.

“Explains why Twitter could never give me a reason for my suspension. It was Schiff!” Sperry said this week.

His account was recently restored after Elon Musk bought Twitter.

Musk has given Taibbi and some other reporters access to internal Twitter files.

In another set of messages, the Senate Intelligence Committee was shown to be in touch with Twitter on the removal of accounts.

Other Files

Other files released by Taibbi on Jan. 3 show that Twitter acted on requests from other parties, including the State Department’s Global Engagement Center.

The center, which raised concerns about accounts that promoted the theory that COVID-19 originated at the laboratory in Wuhan, China, near where the first cases of the disease were detected in 2019, successfully got accounts banned after identifying them as being linked to Russians, including some to the Russian government.

The U.S. intelligence community also designated individual users for removal, including an account that officials claimed was controlled by the Russian Internet Research Agency and that had posted “racially derogatory content targeting African Americans.”

Another message flagged multiple Russian media outlets, including the state-controlled TASS.

One recently released set of files shows Twitter taking action against doctors because their views diverged from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, including the suspension of Dr. Andrew Bostom, a Rhode Island physician. However, a Twitter review of the five alleged violations Bostom committed concluded that only a single instance was an actual violation.
A second set shows that Twitter moderators inconsistently applied moderation to then-President Donald Trump while not censoring President Joe Biden, who was a candidate at the time.
A third set shows the FBI communicating with Twitter about alleged information from Russian sources shortly before the New York Post published its first article about the laptop belonging to Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. Twitter infamously locked the Post out of its account after the outlet shared the article, claiming that it was sourced from hacked materials. Former FBI lawyer Jim Baker, a top lawyer at Twitter at the time, said in one internal message that Twitter didn’t know if the story was from hacked materials but said it was “reasonable for us to assume that they may have been.”
Twitter also diverged from longstanding company policy when it banned Trump in early 2021, with former top executive Yoel Roth expressing confusion about the basis for permanently suspending the president, internal messages show.

Musk has cheered the release of the files, saying they expose problems that were widespread before he took over the company. None of the executives or government agencies that sent or received the messages, nor Twitter itself, have disputed their authenticity.

The FBI said in a recent statement that the messages between it and Twitter “show nothing more than examples of our traditional, longstanding and ongoing federal government and private sector engagements, which involve numerous companies over multiple sectors and industries.”

Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news. Contact Zachary at [email protected]
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