Gadde, an Indian, then working as head of Twitter’s Legal Policy, Trust, and Safety in the US, used her influence and authority to suppress a story damaging to Joe Biden’s election prospects.
New Delhi: A series of tweets put out by an independent American journalist and endorsed by Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, on Saturday morning (IST), revealed how some former employees sitting at the “highest” level of authority at Twitter were secretly influencing content, engaging in “censorship,” and suppressing facts and information to favour one side of the political spectrum. In a series of 36 tweets, independent American journalist and author Matt Taibbi described how Vijaya Gadde, then the head of Twitter’s legal policy, trust, and safety in the US, used her influence and authority to suppress a story published by the New York Post in October 2020, ahead of the US presidential elections, so that the story did not harm Joe Biden’s election prospects.Taibbi released documents and emails showing Gadde, through emails, directed her colleagues to “censor” the story, “Biden Secret Email” in October 2020 published in the New York Post, as the story claimed to have access to the email exchanges between Hunter Biden, son of Joe Biden, and a top executive of a Ukrainian energy firm, Burisma, which asked Hunter to use his influence in the US. The email also allegedly said that Joe Biden had used his influence to pressure government officials in the Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who was investigating the firm Burisma.It is pertinent to note here that, according to the story in the New York Post, the email exchanges were happening between junior Biden and the Ukrainian energy firm official when Joe Biden was the Vice President of the United States; the emails were retrieved from Hunter Biden’s laptop when he had given it for repair at a shop in Delaware before the US elections.”Twitter took extraordinary steps to suppress the story, removing links and posting warnings that it may be ‘unsafe’. They even blocked its transmission via direct message, a tool hitherto reserved for extreme cases, e.g. child pornography,” Taibbi revealed in his tweet. The report, which was supposed to cause quite a stir in the United States and possibly sway voters ahead of the Presidential election, was quickly removed or restricted by Twitter in October 2020, following emails from Gadde citing “frivolous” reasons of “Twitter hacked material policies.”The series of tweets termed “Twitter files” also shows emails between Gadde and her team justifying the “censorship” of the story. The email exchanges also show that US White House spokeswoman Kaleigh McEnany was locked out of her account for tweeting about the story, and a former Twitter employee justified that she was locked out because she violated the “Twitter hacked material policy.”Gadde, in an email reply to US Congressman Ro Khanna, who had flagged the issue of taking down Kaleigh McEnany’s account from Twitter, said, “The press secretary’s account was not permanently suspended—we requested that she delete the tweet containing material that is in violation of our rules, and her account is restricted unless she complies.” The email exchange also shows that not all employees of Twitter were on the same page, and as Matt put it, “You can see the confusion in the following lengthy exchange (email), which ends up including Gadde and former Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth. Comms official Trenton Kennedy writes, ‘I’m struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe’.”This is not just a one-off incident, hinted the new owner of Twitter, billionaire Elon Musk, as he has pledged to reveal more such acts by the previous employees of Twitter. Musk, in a tweet on Saturday (IST), said that part two of the “Twitter files” will be revealed on Sunday, which will further expose the previous employees of Twitter who were using their influence and authority over one of the world’s largest social media platforms to settle their political scores.However, both Matt and Musk have stated that the then CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, was not aware of such happenings within the company and that these shots were being taken by some employees of the social media giant without keeping him in the loop. “The decision (to restrict the story) was made at the highest levels of the company, but without the knowledge of CEO Jack Dorsey, with former head of legal, policy, and trust Vijaya Gadde playing a key role,” Taibbi said in his tweet.This incident has also raised serious question marks on the previous leadership at Twitter, who would often claim that there was “no censorship” by Twitter. Many people in Twitter circles also claimed that censorship activities had increased during the tenure of Parag Agarwal, who has been the CEO of Twitter since October 2021. Agarwal was fired in November of this year after Musk purchased the social media giant.The Sunday Guardian had also been writing about Twitter and its “biased policies” at least until the time of its previous ownership, where the social media company was seen promoting and suppressing contents, accounts, and information that it found did not match the ideological bent of its previous employees.Many organisations in India and abroad have on multiple occasions in the past suggested that twitter under the previous ownership was tilted towards “liberal” “left leaning” accounts and it was supressing content which it perceived to be “Right”, while promoting content on the platform which it perceived to be “Left”.Twitter India in the past has notified “manipulated media” tags on tweets by BJP’s IT cell head Amit Malviyaseveral times, especially during elections which had created a sort of furore among several sections of people. Several prominent “right leaning” individuals like BJP MP Rakesh Sinha, and AnandRanganathan had earlier claimed how Twitter had been promoting accounts and contents that were “liberal” or “Left leaning”.Since the “Twitter Files” went live on Twitter, many have been demanding that Vijaya Gadde be taken to task for violating constitutional rights of individuals and organisations in the US.She had also triggered outrage in India during a visit by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey when some blamed her for Jack holding up a placard that read “Smash Brahmin Patriarchy”. Gadde had subsequently apologised for the incident, saying it was not reflective of Twitter’s views and it was meant to be a private photo with a gift just given to the visiting delegation.The 48-year-old Gadde was born to a Telugu family in India’s Hyderabad, Telangana. She moved to the US when she was three years old and was brought up in Texas. She went to study law at New York University. In 2011, she joined Twitter, and her key responsibilities included dealing with tweets that involved fake news and harassment and then moved on to become head of legal, trust and policy team at Twitter.However, after she was fired from Twitter in November this year, Gadde’s social media profile shows that she is currently the board member in at least three US-based companies.