Twitter files

Twitter Files part 14 sheds light on “Russian bots” and #ReleaseTheMemo

The Twitter Files part 14, written by independent journalist, Matt Taibbi, shed light on a false narrative of Russian bots and the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. Taibbi, who was given access to the internal documents at Twitter by Elon Musk, released a new installment on Thursday.

It began in 2018 when Senators Dianne Feinstein and Adam Schiff wrote the platform a letter regarding trending hashtags and Russian disinformation campaigns. Twitter pointed out that both the politicians and the media didn’t only lack the evidence but had evidence the accounts were not Russian. However, the platform was “roundly ignored.”

Backtracking to a week before Twitter received the letter, Republican Devin Nunes submitted a classified memo to the House Intel Committee that detailed the abuses by the FBI in obtaining Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) surveillance authority against those connected to former President Trump. Included was the role played by the Steele Dossier.

Credit: Matt Taibbi

In December 2019, a report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz verified Nunes’ assertions virtually.

“We also found that the FBI’s interviews of Steele, his Primary Sub-Source, a second sub-source, and other investigative activity revealed potentially serious problems with Steele’s descriptions of information in his reports,” the report read. “Among other things, regarding the allegations attributed to Person 1, the Primary Sub-source’s account of these communications, if true, was not consistent with and, in fact, contradicted the allegations of a “well-developed conspiracy” in Reports 95 and 102 attributed to Person 1.”

The report also pointed out that the FBI filed three renewal applications with the FISC in 2017, repeating the seven “significant errors contained in the first FISA application.” Yet, the report found another ten errors in the three renewal applications. Taibbi noted that despite that, the national media denounced Nunes’ report in January and February 2018 in “oddly identical language, calling it a ‘joke.’

Senators Feinstein and Schiff also wrote an open letter claiming that the hashtag “gained the immediate attention and assistance of social media accounts linked to Russian influence operations.

The senators claimed that Nunes’ memo “distorts” classified information. “But note they didn’t call it incorrect,” Taibbi wrote.

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal also wrote a letter. “We find it reprehensible that Russian agents have so eagerly manipulated innocent Americans citizens and undermined our democratic processes through our elections and public policy debates.”

The letter asked Twitter to notify users who interacted with tweets created by the accounts tracked by the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD). The senators and members of the media pointed to the Hamilton 68 dashboard created by Clint Watts, a former FBI counterintelligence official, created The letter asked Twitter to notify users who interacted with tweets created by the accounts tracked by the Alliance for Securing Democracy.”

The Hamilton 68 dashboard was described as a project with the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshal Fund and tracked around 600 accounts that it claimed were tied to Russian-sponsored influence and disinformation campaigns. Bret Schafer, an analyst who helped run the project, spoke about the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag.

“I’ve never seen any single hashtag that has had this amount of activity behind it,” he said. Taibbi noted that the dashboard “was vague in how it reached its conclusions.”

Twitter executives didn’t quite trust the dashboard and the key complaints were that Hamilton 68 seemed to be the only source of information and no one was checking with Twitter. Global Policy Communications Chief Emily Horne encouraged skepticism of the dashboard’s take. In the screenshots below, Horne pointed out that it was a comms play for ASD.

“They’ve made a very strong media push in the last week, piggybacking on Clint’s testimony.”

Off the record, she said, “I encourage you to be skeptical of Hamilton 68’s take on this, which, as best as I can tell, is the only source for these stories. 1) Hamilton 68 does not release the accounts that make up their dashboard, so no one can verify the accounts they include are, in fact, Russian automated accounts, and 2) it is extraordinarily difficult for outside researchers, who do not have access to our full API and internal account signals, to say with any degree of certainty that an account they believe is behaving suspiciously is 1) automated and 2) Russian.”

“If you speak with them, I encourage you to press them on how they can be sure of both of these claims when they do not have access to internal signals and data.”

Twitter’s former head of safety, Yoel Roth, wasn’t able to find any Russian connection to the hashtag and noted that after reviewing accounts that posted the first 50 tweets with the hashtag, none showed any signs or affiliation to Russia. Instead, Twitter found that the engagement was “overwhelmingly organing and driven by strong VIT engagement). VIT is an acronym for very important Tweeters, and these included Wikileaks, Donald Trump Jr., and Congressman Steve King.

When Twitter brought this up to a Blumenthal staffer, the staffer tried to wave them off “because we don’t believe these are bots.”

Another Twitter executive pointed out that if Blumenthal would lay off on this, “it seems like there are other wins we could offer him.” However, the senator published his letter, which led to the platform’s executives being frustrated over what they viewed as a circular process.

“Twitter spent a lot of resources to respond to the initial request, and the reward from Blumental shouldn’t be round after round of requests for user notice. It also doesn’t do anything to fix the problem. That distracts our team from the real iq fight.”

Twitter executives later realized that they were”feeding congressional trolls” and compared the requests to a popular children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

Although Twitter believed that there were no Russians in the story, it stopped challenging Russia’s claims on the record. Outside counsel from firms advised Twitter to use language such as “With respect to particular hashtags, we take seriously any activity that may represent an abuse of our platform.”

This resulted in reports from several mainstream media outlets pushing the “Russian bots” story without any evidence. Taibbi noted that several media outlets that played up the “Russian bots” story declined to comment. So did the staff for Senators Feinstein, Schiff, and Blumenthal. Nunes shared a comment.

“Schiff and the Democrats falsely claimed Russians were behind the Release the Memo hashtag, all my investigative work… By spreading the Russia collusion hoax, they instigated one of the greatest outbreaks of mass delusion in U.S. history.”

Your feedback is welcome. If you have any comments or concerns or see a typo, you can email me at You can also reach me on Twitter at @JohnnaCrider1.

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Twitter Files part 14 sheds light on “Russian bots” and #ReleaseTheMemo
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