A engineer’s plan to “ban a way of talking” didn’t refer to conservatives.
O’Keefe claims to have uncovered smoking-gun evidence of a far-reaching conspiracy to suppress conservative speech on the Twitter platform. Conservative media outlets have taken that frame and run with it.
But there’s a lot less to the two videos Project Veritas released this week than meets the eye. For example, O’Keefe has repeatedly highlighted Twitter engineer Steven Pierre’s comment that Twitter was working on software to “ban a way of talking.” The strong implication is that the “way of talking” Pierre wants to ban is conservative political speech. But if you actually watch the full video, that’s clearly not what Pierre meant.
“Whether it’s positive or negative doesn’t look for content,” he said. “It’s more like if somebody’s being aggressive or not. Somebody’s just cursing at somebody.”
In other words, Pierre was describing a project to filter out trolling and harassment. O’Keefe could have made this clear—or just left that clip on the cutting room floor. But O’Keefe is a political activist who often casts the targets of his investigations in the worst possible light—even if he has to use smoke and mirrors to do it.
James O’Keefe has used the same basic playbook since 2009, when he made a name for himself catching representatives of the now-defunct liberal community group ACORN advising a client (actually an associate of O’Keefe’s posing as a prostitute) on how to conceal her illegal prostitution business.
In 2010, O’Keefe plead guilty to misdemeanor charges after breaking into the offices of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) as part of an attempted sting operation.
As O’Keefe’s fame has grown, he’s been able to raise money and recruit a growing army of staffers to carry out wide-ranging stings against a variety of targets. In recent months, his organization, Project Veritas, has focused on elite media institutions, with recent exposés focusing on the Washington Post, the New York Times, and CNN.
The group’s basic approach is to talk to a wide range of people connected to an organization in hopes that a few of them will say things that sound bad. Project Veritas isn’t very picky about who it targets for its sting operation. For example, in the group’s exposé of the New York Times, O’Keefe quotes a Times IT consultant saying that people in the Times newsroom hate Trump.
If you talk to enough people at an organization with thousands of employees, it’s inevitable that you’ll catch some of them saying stuff that at least sounds bad. We don’t know how many Twitter employees O’Keefe’s organization talked to who didn’t say anything embarrassing—or even directly contradicted O’Keefe’s thesis that Twitter is systematically censoring conservatives.
In total, Project Veritas has published comments by eight Twitter employees—all apparently without their knowledge or consent. While O’Keefe portrays all of these clips as evidence that Twitter is pushing a secret anti-Trump and anti-conservative agenda, most of the clips fall apart upon close examination.
Here’s a full list of the eight people featured in Project Veritas video so far—and what they actually said.
Clay Haynes: “There’s a reason why we have a subpoena process”
The first Project Veritas video focused on Clay Haynes, a senior network engineer at Twitter. The headline on that video focuses on Haynes saying that “we’re more than happy to help the Department of Justice in their little investigation” against Donald Trump by turning over direct messages and other private information.
But the tape shows that when Haynes is urged to look at the private messages of Donald Trump and his son Donald Jr., Haynes laughs nervously and says, “We have a subpoena process for that very reason.” In other words, Haynes’s comments are entirely consistent with Twitter’s official policy: that it only discloses private information about its users if it receives a court order to do so.
Olinda Hassan: “You need to also have control of your timeline”
As a Twitter policy manager, Hassan helps develop Twitter’s regulations for issues like hate speech. In the video, a Project Veritas person says to her, “I’ve tried to, like, block people like Cernovich and stuff like that and mute and stuff like that, but they still show up.” Hassan says that Twitter is “working on” the problem, with a goal to “get the shitty people to not show up.” Hassan doesn’t specify which “shitty people” she’s talking about, and O’Keefe naturally insinuates that she’s talking about an official Twitter blacklist of conservative pundits.
But in the same conversation, Hassan stressed that “you need to also have control of your timeline.” In other words, there was no indication that this “shitty people” feature was limited to any one ideology or partisan affiliation. If you’re a conservative user who wants to block a bunch of annoying liberal pundits, the same technology should allow that. It was the Project Veritas staffer, not Hassan, who asked about banning conservatives—and nothing Hassan said implied that the feature was limited to conservatives.
Conrado Miranda: “That’s a thing”
A woman associated with Project Veritas said to Miranda, a former Twitter engineer, “I’ve heard talk that it’s a good thing because they’ll use it to ban, like, Trump supporters or conservatives, so I don’t know if, like, that’s just a rumor or if that’s true.”
“That’s a thing,” Miranda replied.
The problem is that Project Veritas edited the segment so that we don’t know what what the woman said just before this exchange. That means we don’t know what “it” is or who “they” are. For example, this could just be referring to technology that gives users greater ability to filter out tweets they find annoying—whether they’re conservative or liberal. In his response, Miranda doesn’t say anything more about political filtering, instead giving a high-level technical description of how content filtering works in general.