New Twitter Files show the pre-Musk, pro-censorship Twitter regime lacked “the guts to out” a watchdog group with ties to government officials that falsely labeled American accounts “Russian bots.”
Journalist Matt Taibbi detailed the reportedly fraudulent work of the Hamilton 68 dashboard, a project of the “neoliberal think tank” Alliance for Securing Democracy in the latest round of Twitter Files released today. Taibbi previously reported that FBI counterintelligence official Clint Watts created Hamilton 68, which describes itself as a “Tool to Track Russian Disinformation on Twitter.” Hamilton 68 claimed to have a list of “600 Twitter accounts to Russian influence activities online.” In reality, most of the “Russian” accounts turned out to be American, British and Canadian accounts. “It’s a scam,” Taibbi summarized.
Hamilton 68 was “used as a source to assert Russian influence in an astonishing array of news stories” and “as evidence of the spread of ‘fake news’ on sites like Twitter,” he continued. “It was a lie.”
It seems former Twitter Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth immediately saw through the group’s deceptive efforts. “I think we need to just call this out on the bullshit it is,” Roth wrote according to an email Taibbi provided.
Roth later noted that hashtags that appeared right-leaning received the label “Russian” only because the group “[f]alsely accuse[d] a bunch of legitimate right-leaning accounts of being Russian bots.”
In another email, Roth further discredited Hamilton 68’s findings and added that “[v]irtually any conclusion drawn from it will take conversations in conservative circles on Twitter and accuse them of being Russian.”
Taibbi wrote that Hamilton 68 “was the source of hundreds if not thousands of mainstream print and TV news stories in the Trump years.”
“It was a scam. Instead of tracking how ‘Russia’ influenced American attitudes, Hamilton 68 simply collected a handful of mostly real, mostly American accounts, and described their organic conversations as Russian scheming,” he added.
Taibbi wrote that the group “was used as a source to assert Russian influence in an astonishing array of news stories: support for Brett Kavanaugh or the Devin Nunes memo, the Parkland shooting, manipulation of black voters, ‘attacks’ on the Mueller investigation… .” But “most insidious of all,” Taibbi noted, was that media used fear in the population to “smear people like Tulsi Gabbard as foreign ‘assets,’ and drum up sympathy for political causes like Joe Biden’s campaign by describing critics as Russian-aligned.”
Members of the group’s advisory council included NeverTrumper activist Bill Kristol, and Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chief John Podesta, among others.
At one point Roth threatened to reveal the group’s list to the public. “Real people need to know they’ve been unilaterally labeled Russian stooges without evidence or recourse,” Roth wrote in an email according to screenshots Taibbi shared. Roth was reportedly not alone in his concerns, but it seems that his thoughts were ultimately ignored in favor of the “long game.”
“I also have been very frustrated in not calling out Hamilton 68 more publicly, but understand we have to play a longer game here,” former Twitter Director of Policy and Philanthropy Carlos Monje reportedly wrote.
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