Twitter placed dozens of accounts created by US Central Command (CENTCOM) on a “whitelist” for preferential treatment, according to internal company documents obtained by journalist Lee Fang. The eighth edition of the ‘Twitter Files’ exposed the site’s involvement in propaganda operations run by the Pentagon.
CENTCOM sent an email to Twitter in 2017 requesting special privileges for 52 Arabic-language accounts it said would be used to “amplify certain messages” to target audiences around the world. The social media platform quickly agreed and placed the accounts on a “whitelist,” which, according to Feng, ”essentially provides verification status to the accounts w/o the blue check, meaning they are exempt from spam/abuse flags, more visible/likely to trend on hashtags.”
Many of the profiles did not disclose their relationship with Pentagon, and some of them remain active. CENTCOM used the sock accounts to promote US policy goals or boost the message of American allies, with some posting about the war in Yemen and pushing criticism of Iran. Another handle was seen asserting that “accurate” US drone strikes only kill terrorists.
Fang pointed out that the accounts were in violation of Twitter’s own policies, as company executives had previously told lawmakers that they would “rapidly identify and shut down all state-backed covert information operations & deceptive propaganda.”
In previous reporting on the Twitter files, Matt Taibbi explained how the company effectively came to operate as a subsidiary of the FBI, while a separate exposé by Michael Shellenberger showed how the bureau leverages its influence to censor content and gain more access to Twitter data without warrants.