In the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack, Twitter employees raged at their own company and its leadership, blaming them for the social media giant’s inept handling of Donald Trump and other top MAGA figures’ incitement to violence.
“Do you want to have more blood on your hands?” one staffer asked a top executive, Del Harvey, when she questioned whether Trump could inspire more violence in the insurrection’s aftermath.
The exchange, relayed by former Twitter employees to the Jan. 6 committee, was included in a summary of investigative findings prepared by committee staff and obtained by Rolling Stone. The 120-page document contains insights about the role of social media in the insurrection — most of which were not included in the committee’s final report — and paints a picture of Twitter as bumbling and gunshy in its efforts to stop extremists from using the platform in the run-up to the insurrection.
In its final report, the Jan. 6 committee mostly avoided conclusions about how social media companies responded to insurrection and the weeks of extremist rhetoric leading up to it. Committee members punted the issue to Congress and asked oversight committees to “continue to evaluate policies of media companies that have had the effect of radicalizing their consumers.”
In the draft summary, written by the committee’s “purple” or social media team, staffers were more pointed about what they saw as the failures of big social media companies.
“The sheer scale of Republican post-election rage paralyzed decisionmakers at Twitter and Facebook, who feared political reprisals if they took strong action,” the summary concluded.
Twitter reportedly told the committee that it instituted the draft coded incitement to violence policy once rioters made it inside the Capitol, but former employees said the on-the-fly implementation was vague, confused, and ad hoc. The result of the delay, they argued, meant that “members of the Safety Policy Team were manually taking down violent tweets, including those including ‘#ExecuteMikePence,’ using only the Twitter search function.”
The draft also paints a picture of Twitter leadership that seemed to have little idea about the far-right figures on its platform. In an email exchange excerpted in the draft summary, a senate aide emailed a Twitter executive to express disbelief that the company was still allowing Ron Watkins, the administrator of the Internet’s ground zero for the QAnon movement, to continue tweeting on Jan. 6. The unnamed Twitter executive emailed back with a question: “Who is Ron Watkins?”
And even days after the insurrection, former Twitter employees told the committee that executives were still slow to recognize the risk Trump could pose in inciting future violence. After Trump tweeted that he would not attend Joe Biden’s inauguration, Safety Team employees testified that they saw “the exact same rhetoric and the exact same language that had led up to January 6th popping underneath” his tweets, leading to fears of another act of mass violence.
The report’s release comes as Elon Musk, Twitter’s new owner, has suggested that the company’s old regime employed a moderation policy that consciously favored Democrats and strategically censored pro-Trump voices. But the bipartisan panel paints a picture of a company adrift, handling moderation in an ad hoc manner with little internal logic.
The draft relies in part on depositions of Anika Collier Navaroli, a former senior Twitter Safety Team official, and an anonymous former Twitter employee referred to only by the pseudonym “J. Johnson.”
Both committee staff and former employees who gave depositions singled out former Twitter Vice President for Trust & Safety Del Harvey as an obstacle to tougher enforcement against election-related extremism in the run-up to the insurrection. Harvey, the 120-page summary concludes, “personally obstructed” the creation of a coded incitement to violence policy drafted by Twitter Safety employees in the months before the insurrection.
Harvey did not respond to Rolling Stone’s requests for comment.
Under Musk, Twitter no longer has a mechanism for responding to press inquiries.
Collier Navaroli drafted a coded incitement to violence policy after President Trump’s “stand back and stand by” shout-out to the Proud Boys during the September presidential debates. The policy was meant to capture content that would skirt existing policies on violent incitement by avoiding obvious keywords, according to the summary.
But during a Nov. 9 meeting with Safety staff, former employees claimed Harvey argued against the policy. Harvey, the summary wrote, pointed to hashtags forbidden under the policy, including “locked and loaded,” and claimed they “could be a reference to self-defense and should not be the target of content moderation.”
Former employees told the committee that they were overwhelmed by the workload as tweets flooded in from the Capitol with enough specificity to tell which specific parts of the building had fallen to the mob.
And as rioters streamed through the Capitol, at least one senate aide pleaded with the company to take their platform’s responsibility in stopping the violence more seriously. “I am telling you emphatically that you need to put out a statement about where your redline is and be prepared to draw it,” the aide wrote. ‘Platforms are going to bear a lot of responsibility for helping facilitate this. I really hope you do more than watch today.”