WASHINGTON — During today’s House Select Committee hearing investigating the Jan. 6 uprising, an anonymous former Twitter employee said he tried for weeks in 2020 to bring the platform to do something about the calls for violence that arose on the network following a series of tweets by then-President Trump.
Trump’s tweets — and in particular the one on Dec. 19, 2020, in which Trump called on people to come to Washington on Jan. 6 when things “get wild” — prompted people to respond that they were “locked up and loaded. and ready to answer the president’s call.
Trump was “talking directly to extremist organizations and giving them direction. We had never seen this kind of direct communication before,” the former employee said in a recording played during the hearing. “I came to reality,” said the witness, “…if [Twitter] I did no intervention in what I saw, people are going to die, and on January 5, I realized that no intervention was coming.
On January 8, Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account. But according to the witness, society had known for some time before the January 6 attack that the former president’s tweets had sparked widespread calls for a violent insurgency to stop the peaceful transfer of power. The former Twitter employee testified that until January 8, the company used a light hand against Trump. “Twitter relished knowing,” they testified, “that they were also the former president’s favorite and most-used service and enjoyed having that kind of power.”
Nora BenavidezFree Press’s senior attorney and director of digital justice and civil rights, said:
“Today’s shocking testimony from a whistleblower confirms what many of us have known for years: Big Tech has repeatedly failed to contain calls for violence on their platforms. We need to see the full testimony of this former Twitter employee in order to fully understand the company’s role in fomenting the kinds of violence that threatened to overthrow democracy in the United States and install authoritarian rule in its place.
“Twitter – and other social media companies – must stop shirking their responsibilities, 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 that Twitter and other platforms – including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube – must take to’Correct the flow‘ and stop amplifying the worst content on their platforms. Companies need to fix their algorithms so they stop promoting calls for violence, build moderation capacity so this content is flagged and addressed 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 correct their feeds, we will continue to see calls for violence online turn into bloodshed in the real world.”