Bringing Together Conservative Voices

Twitter assisted in government psyop campaigns, new ‘Twitter Files’ reveal

Twitter employees assisted the Pentagon with covert psychological operations by helping push propaganda through a network of Twitter accounts in different languages, as revealed by investigative journalist Lee Fang.

“How Twitter Quietly Aided the Pentagon’s Covert Online PsyOp Campaign,” Fang writes, revealing documents obtained from Twitter’s internal communications dubbed the “Twitter Files.”

The files reveal that in 2017, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) sent Twitter a list of 52 Arab language accounts that the military used to “amplify certain messages.” A government official asked for priority service for six of the accounts, verification for one, and special “whitelist” abilities for another.

“Our [special operations command] guys mentioned they’d love to be able to come and meet up for a face-to-face,” the email also says.

The same day, Twitter applied a special “whitelist” tag that acts similarly to a verification without a blue checkmark, meaning it provides exemption from spam and abuse flagging and is more likely be to seen or trend.

The Arab-language accounts are fairly cut and dried as far as messaging goes. They promoted U.S. messaging in the Middle East on topics such as the Yemen conflict, anti-Iranian messages, and how “accurate” drone strikes have been, claiming to kill only the intended terrorist target.

In May 2020, a Twitter employee seemingly emailed the Department of Justice proactively, providing a list of accounts Twitter had discovered along with a list that had been provided. The detected accounts tweeted in Russian and Arabic similarly to the aforementioned, yet were not disclosed to Twitter as having government ties.

Many of these accounts continued operations well into May 2022, according to Fang, meaning Twitter allowed their accounts to operate under shadowy pretenses for at least two years in some cases.

In August 2022, a Stanford Internet Observatory report discovered several of these accounts, finding that a network across social media platforms was using “deepfake” images and memes against U.S. foreign adversaries to promote pro-American messages.

“An interconnected web of accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and five other social media platforms [have] used deceptive tactics to promote pro-Western narratives in the Middle East and Central Asia,” the report reads.

“The platforms’ datasets appear to cover a series of covert campaigns over a period of almost five years rather than one homogeneous operation. These campaigns consistently advanced narratives promoting the interests of the United States and its allies while opposing countries including Russia, China, and Iran,” it concluded.

According to Fang, “Twitter was cast as an unbiased hero for removing ‘a network of fake user accounts promoting pro-Western policy positions,'” despite the company’s obvious assistance in allowing these accounts to operate against their terms of service.

Twitter officials even praised each other when reports came out on the subject and were clearly pleased that they were not exposed for their government cooperation.

u201c1. TWITTER FILES PART 8nn*How Twitter Quietly Aided the Pentagonu2019s Covert Online PsyOp Campaign*nnDespite promises to shut down covert state-run propaganda networks, Twitter docs show that the social media giant directly assisted the U.S. militaryu2019s influence operations.u201d

— Lee Fang (@Lee Fang)

u201c4. In 2017, a U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) official sent Twitter a list of 52 Arab language accounts u201cwe use to amplify certain messages.u201d The official asked for priority service for six accounts, verification for one & u201cwhitelistu201d abilities for the others.u201d

— Lee Fang (@Lee Fang)

u201c6. The CENTCOM accounts on the list tweeted frequently about U.S. military priorities in the Middle East, including promoting anti-Iran messages, promotion of the Saudi Arabia-U.S. backed war in Yemen, and u201caccurateu201d U.S. drone strikes that claimed to only hit terrorists.u201d

— Lee Fang (@Lee Fang)

u201c19. Twitteru2019s comms team was closely in touch with reporters, working to minimize Twitteru2019s role. When the WashPost reported on the scandal, Twitter officials congratulated each other because the story didnu2019t mention any Twitter employees & focused largely on the Pentagon.u201d

— Lee Fang (@Lee Fang)