Twitter may be perceived as an enemy by conservatives who fault the social media platform for banning former President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, but a former Twitter employee testified Tuesday that the company in fact enjoyed being Trump’s preferred medium of communicating with his followers.
In previously recorded testimony played during the seventh hearing of the House committee investigating Jan. 6, the former Twitter staffer said the company “relished in the knowledge that they were also the favorite and most used service of the former president and enjoyed having that sort of power within the social media ecosystem.”
“If Donald Trump were any other Twitter user, he would have been suspended a very long time ago,” the anonymous employee added.
That comment came within the context of a hearing in which Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., detailed how Trump used Twitter to summon an army of potentially violent followers to storm the seat of the American government.
On Dec. 19, 2020, Raskin said, “not long after Sidney Powell, Gen. [Michael] Flynn and Rudy Giuliani left the White House in the early hours of the morning, President Trump turned away from both his outside advisers’ most outlandish and unworkable schemes and his White House counsel’s advice to swallow hard and accept the reality of his loss. Instead, Donald Trump issued a tweet that would galvanize his followers, unleash a political firestorm and change the course of our history as a country.”
“Trump’s purpose was to mobilize a crowd, and how do you mobilize a crowd in 2020?” Raskin continued. “With millions of followers on Twitter, President Trump knew exactly how to do it. ... Trump sent out the tweet with his explosive invitation.”
In his tweet, Trump falsely asserted that it was “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election.”
“Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” Trump concluded. “Be there, will be wild!”
In response, pro-Trump groups such as Women for America First changed their plans for a pro-Trump rally from after Joe Biden’s planned Jan. 20 inauguration to Jan. 6. Others created a website, WildProtest.com — the name being a reference to Trump’s tweet — with information about the planned riot. Citing Trump’s tweet, supportive media figures such as Infowars' Alex Jones subsequently promoted the event and encouraged their audience to attend.
“We are only going to be saved by millions of people moving to Washington, occupying the area — if necessary, storming right into the Capitol,” Matt Bracken, a right-wing commentator, said on Infowars. “We know the rules of engagement — if you have enough people you can push down any kind of fence or a wall.”
The former Twitter employee interviewed by the committee, who worked on the company's content moderation team throughout 2020 and 2021, testified that Twitter considered adopting a stricter content moderation policy after Trump told far-right militia Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during a presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020, but that the company chose not to.
“My concern was that the former president, for seemingly the first time, was speaking directly to extremist organizations and giving them directives,” the former Twitter employee said in his testimony. “We had not seen that sort of direct communication before.”
Some Twitter employees were fearful that Trump would eventually use the platform to mobilize potentially violent extremists such as the Proud Boys. But the company’s leadership, the former employee said, enjoyed being Trump’s preferred social media service and did not want to disrupt that, so it allowed him to violate the terms of service with impunity.
After Trump’s Dec. 19, 2020, tweet calling for a “wild” protest, the Twitter employee said “it felt as if a mob was being organized and they were gathering together their weaponry and their logic and their reasoning behind why they were prepared to fight. ... It became clear that not only were these individuals ready and willing, but the leader of this cause was asking them to join him in fighting for this cause in D.C. on January 6th as well.”
Responses to tweets promoting the rally would often include references to being prepared to commit acts of violence, such as “I’m locked and loaded.”
“I very much believe that Donald Trump posting this tweet on December 19th was essentially sticking a flag in D.C. on January 6th for his supporters to come and rally,” the former Twitter employee said.
Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter following the rally, on Jan. 8, 2021, “due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” the company said in a blog post.