On Tuesday, Twitter’s legal and policy boss Vijaya Gadde told POLITICO that the company’s leeway for vitriolic tweets from world leaders, “is not a blanket exception for the president or anyone else.” So as the piece by Nancy Scola and Ashley Gold said, “not even President Donald Trump is immune from being kicked off the platform if his tweets cross a line with abusive behavior.” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sounded a somewhat different note in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.
“We believe strongly in being impartial, and we strive to enforce our rules impartially,” Dorsey said in prepared testimony. “In fact, from a simple business perspective and to serve the public conversation, Twitter is incentivized to keep all voices on the platform.” That has not always been the case with the social media company that launched in 2006.
As POLITICO reported last November, a Twitter employee “deliberately took down President Donald Trump’s Twitter account,” which for 11 minutes told users, “Sorry, that page doesn’t exist!” Twitter first explained the president’s account was “inadvertedly deactivated due to human error,” but later tweeted that reviews “pointed to a deliberate act of online sabotage.” Twitter did not name the saboteur, but as TechCruch learned his name was Bahtiyar Duysak, “a twenty-something with Turkish roots who was born and raised in Germany.”
Duysak came to the United States under a work and study visa. He had worked at Google and YouTube with the contractor Vaco and at Twitter with Pro Unlimited. On his last day with Twitter, “someone reported Trump’s account” and Duysak “put the wheels in motion to deactivate it.” He later said the action was a “mistake” but told reporters, “I didn’t do anything that I was not authorized to do. I didn’t go to any site I was not supposed to go to. I didn’t break any rules.”
Back in Germany, Duysak agreed to an interview, “because he had a connection to a Muslim-focused community center in the Bay Area,” where a relative of TechCrunch reporter Khaled “Tito” Hamze volunteers.
Bahtiyar Duysak told CNN he was “an ordinary guy,” who enjoys cars and going to the gym. In his free time he volunteers at a “Muslim community center,” that CNN did not identify. Twitter and Pro Unlimited wouldn’t talk about Duysak who “declined to give details of exactly how he took down the account but insisted he didn’t do anything illegal.”
As the Muslim community center volunteer explained, “Even if it was on purpose, it still shouldn’t have taken place.” On the other hand, he said, “I’m not a rogue person” and “everyone will agree I’m reliable and trustworthy.” And as he told TechCrunch, “I love Twitter and I love America.”
As CNN noted, some of the president’s critics said whoever took down his account “should be considered a hero.” Rep. David Jolly, Florida Republican, tweeted, “the employee at Twitter who shut off Trump’s account for 11 mins could become a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.” Others wondered about the double standards.
Twitter shut down the account of Republican strategist Roger Stone after he was critical of CNN. As the informal Trump adviser said, “people on twitter threaten to kill me, my wife , my children and even my dogs but they are not banned.”
Dorsey denies any “shadow banning” of conservatives but told lawmakers Twitter was ill-equipped for “the immensity of problems” such as “abuse, harassment, troll armies, propaganda through bots and human coordination, disinformation campaigns and divisive filter bubbles.” The “required changes” would not be easy, Dorsey testified, but “today we’re committing to the people and this committee to do it openly.”
Similar issues emerged in Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before congress last April. Sen. Cory Gardner asked Zuckerberg if the government had ever demanded that Facebook remove a page from the site. “Yes, I believe so,” Zuckerberg said, but he did not indicate the content of the page Facebook took down and did not identify which government official made the demand.
Senator Ted Cruz brought up Facebook’s bias and political censorship, suppression of stories on the IRS scandal, and a Trump support page that had been blocked. Zuckerberg said Silicon Valley was “an extremely left-leaning place,” so this was a “fair concern.” Facebook would allow “civil rights organizations” to edit content and the social media giant was also cooperating with Robert Mueller’s probe. “We are working with them,” Zuckerberg said.
The day before Dorsey’s testimony, POLITICO reporters asked Vijaya Gadde if Twitter had been in contact with special counsel Robert Mueller and his Russia probe. “Yes,” said Gadde but Twitter’s legal and policy boss “declined to discuss any details.”
Meanwhile, back in Germany, Muslim community center volunteer Bahtiyar Duysak wants a break from work and plans to get into banking. As he told TechCrunch, Donald Trump is “a very successful person and I admire his hard work and how he made it to get the highest position. But I think he needs to learn a little as a politician.”
When Bahtiyar sabotaged the account, the president tweeted “My Twitter account was taken down for 11 minutes by a rogue employee. I guess the word must finally be getting out – and having an impact.” So maybe the president has already learned a few things.