FTC Orchestrated Aggressive Campaign to Harass Twitter After Elon Musk Takeover: House Panel

FTC Orchestrated Aggressive Campaign to Harass Twitter After Elon Musk Takeover: House Panel
Musk attends the opening ceremony of the new Tesla Gigafactory for electric cars in Gruenheide, Germany, on March 22, 2022. (Patrick Pleul/Pool via Reuters)
Caden Pearson

The House panel investigating the weaponization of the federal government said Tuesday the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has orchestrated “an aggressive campaign to harass Twitter” as part of its “unusual response” to Elon Musk’s acquisition of the social network.

The Committee on the Judiciary and the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government released an interim report highlighting the FTC’s apparent overreach in making more than 350 specific demands for information within a period of less than three months after Musk took the helm.

According to the report, the federal agency inundated Twitter with demands to reveal information about hiring and firing decisions and “every internal communication relating to Elon Musk.”

Particularly concerning for the panel, the FTC wanted the names of journalists who were granted access to internal Twitter files during their work “to expose abuses by Big Tech and the federal government.”

Among others, the FTC sent over 60 letters demanding information about Twitter’s subscription product alone. The agency also demanded to know if Twitter was “selling its office equipment” and “all of the reasons” why former FBI official Jim Baker was fired.

“These demands have no basis in the FTC’s statutory mission and appear to be the result of partisan pressure to target Twitter and silence Musk,” the report states (pdf).

The committee said it recently obtained dozens of nonpublic FTC letters to Twitter, which it noted fall directly within its authority to investigate and report “on instances of the federal government’s authority being weaponized against U.S. citizens.”

The U.S. Capitol in Washington on March 1, 2023. (Stefani Reynolds/ AFP via Getty Images)
The U.S. Capitol in Washington on March 1, 2023. (Stefani Reynolds/ AFP via Getty Images)

Demands for Journalists’ Names ‘Inappropriate’

The House committee’s report criticizes the FTC’s demand for information about journalists, calling it inappropriate in any setting.

The report emphasizes that the FTC’s “campaign to harass Twitter” could have a chilling effect on the ability of journalists to report on matters of public interest and calls for greater protection of First Amendment rights.

After journalist Matt Taibbi published the first installment of the “Twitter Files,” exposing a government-Big Tech censorship machine, the FTC sent its first letter to Twitter.

The panel’s report notes it was telling that the FTC’s first demand “did not concern what private user information may have been at risk.”

“Instead, the FTC demanded that Twitter ‘[i]dentify all journalists and other members of the media to whom’ Twitter has granted access to since Musk bought the company.”

The FTC named the journalists involved in the initial disclosures, including Bari Weiss, Matt Taibbi, Michael Shellenberger, and Abigail Shrier.

The agency also demanded to know any “other members of the media to whom You have granted any type of access to the Company’s internal communications for any reason whatsoever,” according to the report.

“There is no reason the FTC needs to know every journalist with whom Twitter was engaging. Even more troubling than the burden on the company, the FTC’s demand represents a government inquiry into First Amendment-protected activity,” the report states.

“It is an agency of the federal government demanding that a private company reveal the names of the journalists who are engaged in reporting about matters of public interest, including potential government misconduct,” the report continues. “While the FTC’s inquiry would be inappropriate in any setting, it is especially inappropriate in the context of journalists disclosing how social media companies helped the government to censor online speech.”

Musk responded on Twitter regarding reports about the federal agency’s request for the names of journalists.

“This is a serious attack on the Constitution by a federal agency,” Musk said.
A Twitter logo hangs outside the company's offices in San Francisco on Dec. 19, 2022. (Jeff Chiu/AP Photo)
A Twitter logo hangs outside the company's offices in San Francisco on Dec. 19, 2022. (Jeff Chiu/AP Photo)

‘Politically Motivated’ Left Wing Pressure

The FTC used its consent decree with Twitter as a pretext to harass the social network and received pressure from left-wing individuals and groups, according to the report. That consent agreement, which was later revised, acts as a safeguard of users’ personal information.

In 2022, before Musk’s takeover, FTC Chair Lina Khan assured the Judiciary Committee that the agency “acts only in the public interest” and is “confined” by its statutory authority, the report states.

However, the nonpublic information obtained by the House panel disputes this.

Citing its revised consent agreement, the FTC “began its barrage of demands” just two weeks after Musk became the CEO in October 2022.

The day it fired off its first letters, the agency said publicly that it was “tracking recent developments at Twitter with deep concern” and warned that the “revised consent order gives us new tools to ensure compliance, and we are prepared to use them.”

The report notes that the timing of the FTC’s actions “strongly suggests that its reliance on the consent decree is a pretext.” The report notes that Musk became CEO of Twitter on Oct. 27, 2022, and that the FTC sent its first two letters with over a dozen demands on Nov. 10, 2022.

However, under the terms of the revised consent agreement, which formed the pretext of the FTC’s actions, Twitter was not required to implement its new privacy and information security program until Nov. 22, 2022.

“In other words, the FTC started this heavy-handed compliance monitoring two weeks after Musk acquired Twitter, but two weeks before there was even a program in place to monitor,” the report states.

The report states that left-wing individuals and groups pressured the federal government to take action, citing their objections to Musk’s stated intentions to make Twitter a bastion of free speech on the internet.

Among the left-wing groups vocal in their objections to Musk’s purchase of Twitter was an organization called Open Markets Institute, where FTC Chair Khan once worked.

This organization, described in the report as a “left-wing political advocacy” group, wrote to the FTC specifically urging it to use its consent agreement “as a vehicle to attempt to thwart Musk’s efforts to reorient the company” toward his free speech goals, the report states.

“The strong inference from these facts is that Twitter’s rediscovered focus on free speech is being met with politically motivated attempts to thwart Elon Musk’s goals,” the report states.

“The FTC’s demands did not occur in a vacuum. They appear to be the result of loud voices on the left—including elected officials—urging the federal government to intervene in Musk’s acquisition and management of the company,” the report continues. “The FTC’s harassment of Twitter is likely due to one fact: Musk’s self-described ‘absolutist’ commitment to free expression in the digital town square.”

In a statement to The Epoch Times, an FTC spokesperson defended its investigation into Twitter’s compliance with the consent decree.

“Protecting consumers’ privacy is exactly what the FTC is supposed to do,“ the spokesperson said. ”It should come as no surprise that career staff at the commission are conducting a rigorous investigation into Twitter’s compliance with a consent order that came into effect long before Mr. Musk purchased the company.”