This week, MAGA Republicans are holding yet another congressional hearing about Twitter, back when it was still known as Twitter (RIP). As they return from Thanksgiving recess, Republicans have selected three witnesses – including two repeat GOP witnesses – who have faced accusations of factual inaccuracies, journalistic misconduct, and bias. Their writings on the “Twitter Files” have been called into question and all three have increasingly embraced right-wing grievance politics and conspiracy theories.
And if you think this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve seen this all before; nearly ten months ago, House Republicans held their first Oversight hearing since winning control of the House of Representatives, focusing on the Twitter Files. It spectacularly backfired. With the holidays approaching, Republicans are all-too-eager to distract from their utter failure to govern instead of focusing on the issues affecting American families, like inflation. Instead, their partisan stunts are spreading lies and harming our democracy:
Republican Partisan Games Are Harming Our Democracy. “A once-robust alliance of federal agencies, tech companies, election officials, and researchers that worked together to thwart foreign propaganda and disinformation has fragmented after years of sustained Republican attacks. […] A common theme among those interviewed: The chilling effect that Republican attacks had on the sharing of information about possible interference, which could make it easier for foreign adversaries to manipulate U.S. public opinion and harder for 2024 voters to sort out what’s real from what’s fake.” [NBC News, 11/10/23]
Matt Taibbi’s Reporting Has Been Called Into Question. Taibbi, a repeat GOP witness, has come under fire from fellow journalists for credibility issues with his reporting.
- Taibbi Ran A Scandal-Ridden Tabloid Accused of Harassment and Ethical Improprieties. While running a tabloid in Moscow called the eXile, Taibbi was accused of organizing a fake sting operation to harass a fellow journalist, and faced backlash over an article about sexually harassing underage female employees. Rolling Stone described his tabloid as a series of “misogynist rants, dumb pranks, insulting club listings and photos of blood-soaked corpses, all redeemed by political reporting that’s read seriously not only in Moscow but also in Washington.”
- Taibbi Gave Credence to Disinformation On COVID-19 Treatments. Over a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, Taibbi lent journalistic credibility to widely-debunked claims that the medication Ivermectin could be used to treat symptoms of COVID-19, writing an article framing the discourse as “internet censorship.” Though medical misinformation can have serious, deadly consequences, Taibbi denounced the backlash he faced for seriously engaging with misinformation, arguing that journalists “should be permitted to write about certain topics without being painted as a supporter of what they report on.”
- Taibbi Dismissed Credible Warnings in Reporting on Foreign Affairs. Despite critiquing the FBI and CIA’s warnings to Twitter about potential foreign election interference and propaganda, Taibbi has a poor track record with making calls on foreign policy. Most notably, his reporting on Russia has been based on false assumptions and missing information. Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Taibbi “dismissed warnings of an imminent invasion as ‘information warfare,’ and responded to critics by calling warnings ‘baseless’ and ‘a big international PR win for Putin.’” Over a year later, he was forced to admit that he ignored credible sources and apologized for inaccurate analysis.
Matt Taibbi’s Analysis Of The “Twitter Files” Has Aired Right-Wing Grievances. Taibbi is a controversial journalist who formerly wrote for Rolling Stone before shifting his focus towards right-wing grievances, culture war issues and so-called cancel culture. In December 2022, Twitter owner Elon Musk announced that he would be releasing a set of internal documents from Twitter, known as the “Twitter Files,” in numerous installments to be published by Taibbi. Over the past four months, Taibbi has released at least half of these installments, describing FBI warnings about election disinformation and suggestions about certain users, federal law enforcement warnings about foreign influence and foreign propaganda and Twitter employees’ reactions, and Trump’s suspension from Twitter (among others).
- Taibbi Agreed To Unspecified “Conditions” From Elon Musk In Exchange For Reporting On The Twitter Files. The release of the Twitter Files is a deliberate, coordinated attempt to paint Twitter as a co-conspirator in an insidious government censorship scheme. Taibbi described the hours before the release as “among the most chaotic of my life, involving multiple trips back and forth across the country,” and even admitted that he had to “agree to certain conditions” in exchange for the documents. He also revealed that Twitter owner Elon Musk “gets a kick out of seeing all this stuff come out on Twitter.”
- Taibbi Reported Exaggerated and Inaccurate Conclusions About Partisan Bias In the Twitter Files. Taibbi came to inaccurate conclusions about the Twitter Files on at least one occasion. As Rolling Stone pointed out: “Matt Taibbi, who published the first installment, pointed to emails showing Twitter honoring requests from Biden’s team as a smoking gun that the platform’s moderation decisions were political, but researchers soon discovered that the tweets in questions were revenge porn that violated the platform’s policy.” [Rolling Stone, 2/8/23]
Michael Shellenberger Has Embraced Right-Wing Conspiracies. Shellenberger, a repeat GOP witness, has increasingly pivoted to right-wing grievances in his messaging. He received a great deal of media attention from Fox News and Newsmax after claiming that he had been “censored” by Facebook. Now, his Twitter feed is littered with culture war tirades using conservative talking points about “wokeism,” critical race theory, environmentalism, and so forth.
- Shellenberger’s Latest Articles Target Right-Wing Grievances. Perhaps the clearest indication of Shellenberger’s rightward turn is the subject matter of his writings. He has made his partisan stances clear in op-eds published in the New York Post and Fox News, with headlines like “Californians are starting to reject progressive policies—but not fast enough,” “How left-wing activism got taken over by ‘adults’ who act like infants,” and, “Elon Musk chose us to report on the Twitter Files. Here are the disturbing things I learned about the FBI.”
- The House GOP Has Used Shellenberger As A Contrarian Witness At Other Hearings. Shellenberger has served as the House GOP’s contrarian “star witness” in other hearings. In August 2020, he appeared before the House Oversight Committee as a GOP witness to speak on climate change, despite his lack of formal expertise on the subject matter, after complaining that he was “smeared” by House Democrats at an earlier hearing.
- Schellenberg Spread Lies and Conspiracy Theories About January 6. Schellenberg has long been a conspiracy theorist about the violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. As early as Jan. 7, he shared a conspiracy theory about rioters being paid actors. In one of his most controversial Substack newsletters, Schellenberg downplayed the events of Jan. 6. He minimized efforts to overturn the 2020 election and mocked the threats posed by foreign election interference, writing, “it hardly constituted a near-coup,” and blamed “the extremism of both the Right and Left.”
- Shellenberger Launched Unsuccessful Independent Campaigns For California Governor in 2022 and 2017. Shellenberger’s gubernatorial campaigns relied on right-wing media: “Shellenberger appeared on a recent episode of ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ dedicated to Newsom’s reelection campaign, where he claimed to expose the governor’s ‘lies.’” During an interview, he admitted: “I’m going to be doing Bill Maher a week from Friday, I’ve been on Joe Rogan twice, I have something like 10-20 times more social media followers than any of my opponents, so we feel really confident we’re going to come in second on June 7. I wouldn’t have run if I didn’t feel confident I could come in second.”
Despite Having No Experience Writing On Social Media and Free Speech, Shellenberger Published Portions of the “Twitter Files” At the Behest of Elon Musk. Shellenberger is an environmental activist who has become a vocal advocate for conservative politics in recent years. In spite of his clear lack of policy expertise on big tech, social media, law enforcement, or free speech, he published portions of the “Twitter Files” at the behest of Elon Musk. In a drawn-out, editorial narrative thread published on Twitter, Shellenberger accused the Trump-era FBI of conspiring to suppress a New York Post article about Hunter Biden’s laptop ahead of the 2020 election.
- ‘He Doesn’t Have Evidence’: Journalists Derided Shellenberger’s Twitter Analysis As Mere Framing. Shellenberger’s media colleagues have derided the narrative as lacking proof: “And the story Shellenberger wanted to tell was the one the New York Post amplified: The FBI tried to cast the Hunter Biden story as misinformation. But he doesn’t have evidence to that effect. The Post’s story is headlined, ‘FBI pressured Twitter, sent trove of docs hours before Post broke Hunter laptop story,’ capturing the intended narrative. […] As for the ‘pressure’? That’s all framing as well. […] In the context of the moment, that focus made sense. In Shellenberger’s narrative, it is made to seem nefarious. And the New York Post — like Musk, eager to cast Twitter and the FBI as bad actors — is happy to elevate Shellenberger’s presentation.” One journalist described Shellenberger’s analysis as “predicated on an unfailingly ungenerous interpretation of select documents.” [The Washington Post, 12/20/22]
Rupa Subramanya Is A Right-Wing Columnist Working For A Far-Right Canadian Media Outlet. Subramanya is a right-wing pundit based in Canada and a columnist for Truth North, a far-right Canadian media outlet. She has admitted she is “not even a journalist, and, as PressProgress points out, she is “affiliated with a number of right-wing, pro-business think-tanks, including the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and the Mumbai-based Observer Research Foundation.”
Rupa Subramanya Has A History of Spreading False Information and Amplifying Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories.
- Subramanya Championed An Anti-Vaccine Convoy Protest In Canada That Blockaded Provincial Capitals and Border Crossings For Weeks. Subramanya was an outspoken advocate for a Canadian anti-vaccine trucker convoy organized by a right-wing militia network that paralyzed the country for weeks in early 2022. She “lionized” the convoy, writing several op-eds in support of the convoy, and used her platform to spread misinformation. She tweeted a false conspiracy theory that Ottawa hotels had been “instructed by the city/feds not to give out rooms to the protestors.” Her claim was fact-checked by CNN: “Regardless of what Subramanya may have been told, the claims she amplified were not true.” Subramanya was also photographed with convoy organizer Tamara Lich at a fundraising gala hosted by a right-wing charity.
- Subramanya Frequently Deploys Right-Wing and Anti-Trans Rhetoric, Calling Canada A “Woke Dystopia” and Comparing It To “Tinpot Dictatorships.” Subramanya frequently uses right-wing rhetoric in her analysis. During the convoy protests, she compared Canada to ‘tinpot dictatorships.” She later called the country a “woke dystopia,” and partially blamed the state of affairs on so-called trans ideology. Her writings have also been amplified by right-wing columnist Bari Weiss, who has frequently railed against so-called cancel culture, and celebrated far-right commentators known for their bigotry and inflammatory rhetoric.
- Subramanya Spread Misinformation About Canada’s Vaccine Mandate In Her Analysis of the Convoy Protests. Subramanya faced backlash from fact-checkers after spreading misinformation about Canada’s vaccine mandate on her blog: “The blog uses out-of-context quotes and citations to advance misleading explanations for how the vaccine mandate — among the many grievances of the leaders of the 2022 convoy occupation of Ottawa — came into existence. Rating: Subramanya’s claim that court documents reveal Transport Canada’s vaccine mandate policy had “no scientific basis” is misleading and contradicted by her own source documents. While the original court documents Subramanya cites are authentic, her blog leaves out key details, uses out-of-context quotes and contains factual inaccuracies. Taken together, these present misleading impressions of Transport Canada’s testimony and evidence.” [PressProgress, 8/9/22]
Subramanya Baselessly Accused The U.S. Government and Mainstream Media of Censorship In Her Analysis of the “Twitter Files.” Like Matt Taibbi, Subramanya has baselessly used the Twitter Files to baselessly accuse the U.S. government of censorship. During a podcast episode on the Files in December 2022, she claimed that information “was all but censored by the U.S. government working hand-in-glove with Twitter.” She aired personal grievances about Twitter moderating content, complaining that “some of us have directly experienced [suspension and shadow-banning], including me.” She also accused the “mainstream media” of “essentially suppressing” the Twitter Files by “not covering” the revelations – even though the releases have been covered by top U.S. media outlets, including the New York Times, USAToday, CNN, The Washington Post, NPR, Newsweek, HuffPost, and many others.