WASHINGTON — During today’s House Select Committee hearing investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, an anonymous former Twitter employee testified that they had attempted for weeks in 2020 to get the platform to do something about the calls to violence occurring on the network following a series of tweets from then-President Trump.
The Trump tweets — and in particular one from Dec. 19, 2020, in which Trump called on people to come to Washington on Jan. 6 when things “will be wild” — incited people to respond that they were “locked and loaded” and ready to answer the president’s call.
Trump “was speaking directly to extremist organizations and giving them directives. We had not seen that sort of direct communication before,” the former employee testified in a recording shown during the hearing. “I came to the reality,” the witness said, “... if [Twitter] made no intervention into what I saw, people are going to die, and on Jan. 5 I realized that no intervention is coming.”
On Jan. 8, Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account. But according to the witness, the company knew for quite some time prior to the Jan. 6 attack that the former president’s tweets had incited numerous calls for a violent insurrection to stop the peaceful transfer of power. The former Twitter employee testified that until Jan. 8 the company had used a light hand against Trump. “Twitter relished in the knowledge,” they testified, “that they were also the favorite and most used service of the former president and enjoyed having that sort of power.”
Nora Benavidez, Free Press senior counsel and director of digital justice and civil rights, said:
“Today’s shocking whistleblower testimony confirms what many of us have known for years: Big Tech has repeatedly failed to rein in calls to violence on their platforms. We need to view the entire testimony from this former Twitter employee so we can fully understand the company’s role in fomenting the kinds of violence that threatened to overthrow democracy in the United States and seat an authoritarian regime in its place.
“Twitter — and other social-media companies — must stop shirking responsibility, especially as the country prepares for another national election. Free Press and our allies in the Change the Terms coalition have outlined a series of steps Twitter and other platforms — including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube — must take to ‘Fix the Feed’ and stop amplifying the worst content on their platforms. Companies must fix their algorithms so they stop promoting calls to violence, staff up their moderating capacity so that such content is flagged and dealt with before it spreads, and be transparent with researchers and others about their content-moderation practices and algorithms.
“Until Twitter and other platforms take these demands seriously and fix their feeds, we will continue to see online calls to violence spill over into real-world bloodshed.”