Natalie Harp: Gatekeeper to the Reich

I want to unpack a Marc Caputo story about Natalie Harp, who he says is the person who posted the Reich meme video to Trump’s Truth Social account this week.

Trump’s account posted the Reich video on Monday.

On Tuesday, AP identified a troll (which it describes as a “meme creator”), Ramble_Rants, as the source of the video, and a Wikipedia entry on WWI as the source of the Reich image.

At least one of the headlines flashing in the video appears to be text copied verbatim from a Wikipedia entry on World War I: “German industrial strength and production had significantly increased after 1871, driven by the creation of a unified Reich.”

In one image, the headlines “Border Is Closed” and “15 Million Illegal Aliens Deported” appear above smaller text with the start and end dates of World War I.

The video appears to have been created by a meme creator who goes by the username Ramble_Rants.

The creator, who is part of a group of meme makers that The New York Times reported has previously collaborated with the Trump campaign, posted the video on the social platform X Monday morning.

In a post on X, Ramble_Rants defended the video, arguing it was about “American peace and prosperity.”

Then Media Matters described (as the earlier NYT story also had) that Ramble_Rants is part of a trolling group, led by a guy named Brenden Dilley, that the Trump team has closely integrated with the campaign.

Regardless of the intention behind the video Trump shared, Dilley and his team’s association with the Trump campaign is noteworthy.

Trump and his campaign have repeatedly shared the meme team’s material, and the campaign reportedly “privately communicated with members of the meme team, giving them access and making specific requests for content,” and “in at least one instance … shared behind-the-scenes footage to be used in videos, according to members of the team.” Trump has been photographed with Dilley and reportedly “sent personalized notes to several of the group’s members, thanking them for their work.”

Additionally, Dilley disclosed that the campaign gave him and another member of the meme team a “special” and “exclusive” press credential for the campaign’s Iowa caucuses night, where “you hang out with all these wonderful people, and Don Jr. comes through, and Eric Trump comes through, and pretty much the entire Team Trump comes through.” (Reporting has indicated that several journalists from mainstream publications, including The Washington Post, NBC News, Axios, and Vanity Fair, have been denied press access to Trump’s campaign events.)

What we’re seeing is the War Room in which Douglass Mackey, Microchip, and Don Jr collaborated to hijack mainstream news narratives together in 2016, integrated more closely with the campaign. It’s not surprising Trump did that. Even in 2016, Baked Alaska described a Trump HQ Slack that was “coordinat[ing] efforts.”

Remember: Andrew Auernheimer, better known as Weev, and then still posting under his handle rabite, was a key early player in professionalizing that effort, even as he was serving as Webmaster for the Daily Stormer.

Given that pure Nazi lineage, the Nazi allusions are surely not happenstance.

In a post called Elon Musk’s Machine for Fascism, I described how since 2016, trolls and their overlords have been working to perfect the conditions that allowed such trolls to have a significant influence in the 2016 election and an even bigger influence in Trump’s attempted coup. One of the only things that stopped the trolls, and Trump, from sustaining his coup attempt after January 6 was Twitter suspending Trump’s account. This time around, neither Elon Musk nor Trump’s own social media platform will do that. Nor will Telegram, where the organizing function for all this trolling has moved offshore, away from the easy reach of US legal process, shut anything down.

All of which is to say, the Reich meme is not some random mistake. Rather, it is the manifestation of a trolling effort with roots in overt Neo-Nazism that goes back to 2015.

Which brings us back to what Caputo did in a story identifying Natalie Harp as the person who posted the Reich meme to Trump’s account.

Caputo is a Florida-based journalist with very extensive sourcing to the far right. He was recently on Roger Stone’s show. His legal instincts — pretty clearly just parroting of what Trumpsters tell him to say — suck ass, but his political instincts are formidable.

About 16 paragraphs into his story, after he presented Harp’s role in printing out content from social media and right wing sources to placate the boss, and after he described Harp’s trajectory from Liberty University to being cured of cancer by a Trump initiative to working for the 2020 campaign to working for OANN to now driving his social media account, Caputo finally got around to identifying Harp as the culprit behind the Reich meme.

Harp also helps manage Trump’s Truth Social media account and has taken over some of the duties from Trump’s former caddy-turned-senior-adviser Dan Scavino.

This can be a taxing job. On Monday, while he was on trial in New York, Trump’s Truth Social media account reposted a video, published first on X by a supporter using the handle @ramble_rants, called “What happens after Trump wins?” The video featured mock old-fashioned newspaper headlines. One of the sepia-toned faux-newspaper stock images included the phrase “Unified Reich.” Maybe not the best look for a candidate who has dined with actual neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes and “joked” that he would like to be a dictator for a day.

After the Associated Press reported about the video, the Trump campaign deleted the Truth Social post and said Trump wasn’t at fault.

“This was not a campaign video, it was created by a random account online and reposted by a junior staffer who clearly did not see the word, while the President was in court,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said in a written statement that accused Democrats of being more antisemitic than Trump. The campaign wouldn’t identify the name of that “junior staffer,” but sources tell The Bulwark it was Harp. Scavino, one of the few others who has access to Trump’s Truth Social account, isn’t a “junior staffer.” Harp couldn’t be reached for comment.

In most outlets, this would be the scoop, in paragraph one and two, rather than buried 16 paragraphs deep. But that’s not the premise of Caputo’s story. That’s not what a political reporter with very good sourcing in the Florida far right focuses on. Caputo is more interested in Harp’s role as a gatekeeper, which he puts in paragraphs four and five.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Harp gatekeeps much of what Trump sees on social media and reads in the news.

“IF YOU WANT THE PRESIDENT TO SEE SOMETHING, the best route is Natalie,” says a knowledgeable source who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the internal workings of Trump’s inner team and who has passed information to the candidate via Harp. “Don’t underestimate her importance.”

Caputo is not wrong to find this an important point of emphasis (though some people contest it). Dan Scavino has had a near monopoly on Trump’s social media accounts since 2016. Anyone joining him in that role does play an absolutely central role in his means to power. And to the extent that Trump has moved off reading things on his own phone and instead reading what Harp prints out (is Trump’s eyesight getting worse, or is he simply more paranoid?), she does play an absolutely central gatekeeping role.

Dick Cheney’s memoir included a single solitary hint about the lessons he learned, not least as a very young White House Chief of Staff, that allowed him to become the most formidable DC bureaucrat for almost 50 years: to park someone outside the President’s office. Effectively, Harp is the person parked outside Trump’s digital office.

Caputo’s story, then, is that the woman who posted a meme that was interpreted — with good reason — as an intentional allusion to Nazism happens to be the person parked outside Trump’s digital office.

Harp’s key role may be why Caputo described posting that Reich meme as nothing more than, “Maybe not the best look.” Because she’s not going to get fired for doing so.

All the more so for another reason. Around about paragraph 21, Caputo describes that Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita “don’t directly oversee Harp and … essentially leave her alone.”

“No one spends as much time on this campaign around him as Natalie,” said one insider. “If people think she’s an airhead because of her looks, they don’t understand how smart she is and how much the president relies on her.”

The campaign’s co-managers, Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita, don’t directly oversee Harp and, the source said, and essentially leave her alone.

“Natalie fills a role and Chris and Susie know that’s what he wants,” the source said, “so they focus on other things.”

Again, if true (it appears to be single sourced), it is a really important insight: Trump’s digital gatekeeper doesn’t work for the ostensible campaign managers. The campaign — which serially offers statements in response to reporting on Project 2025 claiming that unless something comes from the campaign then it is not official policy — does not control Harp.

Caputo’s source claims that the campaign doesn’t control what comes in and out of Trump’s digital persona. Harp does.

And people amenable to fascism know that, and know how to exploit it.

Elon Musk’s Machine for Fascism: A Tale of Three Elections

Since the spring (when I first started writing this post), I’ve been trying to express what I think Elon Musk intended to do with his $44 billion purchase of Twitter, to turn it into a Machine for Fascism.

Ben Collins wrote a piece — which he has been working on even longer than I have on this post — that led me to return to it.

Collins returns to some texts sent to Elmo in April 2022, just before he bought Twitter, which referenced an unsigned post published at Revolver News laying out a plan for Twitter.

On the day that public records revealed that Elon Musk had become Twitter’s biggest shareholder, an unknown sender texted the billionaire and recommended an article imploring him to acquire the social network outright.

Musk’s purchase of Twitter, the 3,000-word anonymous article said, would amount to a “declaration of war against the Globalist American Empire.” The sender of the texts was offering Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO, a playbook for the takeover and transformation of Twitter. As the anniversary of Musk’s purchase approaches, the identity of the sender remains unknown.

The text messages described a series of actions Musk should take after he gained full control of the social media platform: “Step 1: Blame the platform for its users; Step 2: Coordinated pressure campaign; Step 3: Exodus of the Bluechecks; Step 4: Deplatforming.”

The messages from the unknown sender were revealed in a court filing last year as evidence in a lawsuit Twitter brought against Musk after he tried to back out of buying it. The redacted documents were unearthed by The Chancery Daily, an independent legal publication covering proceedings before the Delaware Court of Chancery.

The wording of the texts matches the subtitles of the article, “The Battle of the Century: Here’s What Happens if Elon Musk Buys Twitter,” which had been published three days earlier on the right-wing website revolver.news.

Collins lays out that the post significantly predicted what has happened since, including an attack on the Anti-Defamation League.

The article on Beattie’s site begins with a baseless claim that censorship on Twitter cost President Donald Trump the 2020 election. “Free speech online is what enabled the Trump revolution in 2016,” the anonymous author wrote. “If the Internet had been as free in 2020 as it was four years before, Trump would have cruised to reelection.”

The author said that “Step 1” after a Musk takeover would be: “Blame the platform for its users.” He or she predicted that “Twitter would be blamed for every so-called act of ‘racism’ ‘sexism’ and ‘transphobia’ occurring on its platform.”

After Musk’s purchase of Twitter was finalized in October 2022, he allowed previously suspended accounts to return. Among them, he restored the account of Trump, whom Twitter had banned after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, as well as the personal accounts of far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and the founder of a neo-Nazi website, Andrew Anglin.

The article predicted that “Step 2” would involve a “Coordinated pressure campaign” by the ADL and other nonprofit groups to get Musk to reinstate the banned accounts. “A vast constellation of activists and non-profits” will lurch into action to “put more and more pressure on the company to change its ways,” the article reads.

The next step, the revolver.news article predicted, would be the “Exodus of the bluechecks.” The term “bluechecks” refers to a former identity verification system on Twitter that confirmed the authenticity of the accounts of celebrities, public figures and journalists.

Musk experimented with and ultimately eliminated Twitter’s verification system of “bluechecks.” As the article predicted, the removal resulted in a public backlash and an exponential drop in advertisers and revenue. Other developments, including Musk’s drastically reducing the number of staffers who monitor tweets and a rise in hate speech, also contributed to the dynamic.

The article predicted that a final step, “Step 4,” would be the “deplatforming” of Twitter itself. He said a Musk-owned Twitter would face the same fate as Parler, a platform that presented itself as a “free speech” home for the right. After numerous calls for violence on Jan. 6 were posted on Parler, Google and Apple removed it from their app stores on the grounds that it had allowed too many posts that promoted violence, crime and misinformation.

Collins notes that the identity of the person who wrote the post on Revolver and sent the texts to Elmo has never been revealed. He seems to think it is Darren Beattie, the publisher of Revolver, whose white supremacist sympathies got him fired from Trump’s White House.

I’m not convinced the post was from Beattie. Others made a case that the person who texted Elmo was Stephen Miller (not least because there’s a redaction where his name might appear elsewhere in the court filing).

But I think Collins’ argument — that Elmo adopted a plan to use Twitter as a Machine for Fascism from the start, guided in part by that post, a post that has some tie to Russophile propagandist Beattie — persuasive.

Then again, I’ve already been thinking about the way that Elmo was trying to perfect a Machine for Fascism.

2016: Professionalizing Trolling

One thing that got me thinking about Elmo’s goals for Twitter came from reading the chatlogs from several Twitter listservs that far right trolls used to coordinate during the 2016 election, introduced as exhibits in Douglass Mackey’s trial for attempting to convince Hillary voters to text their votes rather than casting them at polling places.

The trolls believed, in real time, that their efforts were historic.

On the day Trump sealed his primary win in 2016, for example, Daily Stormer webmaster Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer boasted on a Fed Free Hate Chat that, “it’s fucking astonishing how much reach our little group here has between us, and it’ll solidify and grow after the general.” “This is where it all started,” Douglass Mackey replied, according to exhibits introduced at his trial. “We did it.”

After Trump’s November win became clear, Microchip — a key part of professionalizing this effort — declared, “We are making history,” before he immediately started pitching the idea of flipping a European election (as far right trolls attempted with Emmanuel Macron’s race in 2017) and winning the 2020 election.

By that point, the trolls had been working on–and fine tuning–this effort for at least a year.

Most chilling in the back-story presented in exhibits submitted at trial is the description of how Weev almost groomed Mackey, starting in 2015. “Thanks to weev I am inproving my rhetoric. People love it,” Mackey said in the Fed Free Hate Chat in November 2015. He boasted that his “exploding” twitter account was averaging 300,000 impressions every day, before he mused, “I just hope all this shitlording goes real life.” Two days later Weev admired that, “ricky’s audience expands rapidly, he’s now a leading polemicist” [Mackey did all this under the pseudonym Ricky Vaughn].

Weev and Mackey explained their ideological goals. “The goal is to give people simple lines they can share with family or around the water cooler,” Mackey described to Bidenshairplugs in September 2015. When Weev proposed in January 2016 that he and Mackey write a guide to trolling, he described the project as “ideological disruption” and “psychological loldongs terrorism.” The Daily Stormer webmaster boasted, “i am absolutely sure we can get anyone to do or believe anything as long as we come up with the right rhetorical formula and have people actually try to apply it consistently.” And so they explained the objectives to others. “[R]eally good memes go viral,” Mackey explained to AmericanMex067 on May 10, 2016. “really really good memes become embedded in our consciousness.”

One method they used was “highjacking hashtags,” either infecting the pro-Hillary hashtags pushed by Hillary or filling anti-Trump hashtags with positive content.

Another was repetition. “repitition is key. \’Crooked Hillary created ISIS with Obama\’ repeat it again and again.” Trump hasn’t been repeating the same stupid attacks for 8 years because he’s uncreative or stupid. He’s doing it to intentionally troll America’s psyche.

A third was playing to the irrationality of people. HalleyBorderCol as she pitched the text to vote meme: people aren’t rational. a significant proportion of people who hear the rumour will NOT hear that the rumour has been debunked.”

One explicit goal was to use virality to get the mainstream press to pick up far right lines. Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet described that they needed some tabloid to pick up their false claims about celebrities supporting Trump. “We gotta orchestrate it so good that some shitty tabloid even picks it up.” As they were trying to get the Podesta emails to trend in October 2016, P0TUSTrump argued, “we need CNN wnd [sic] liberal news forced to cover it.”

Microchip testified to the methodology at trial.

Q What does it mean to hijack a hashtag?

A So I guess I can give you an example, is the easiest way. It’s like if you have a hashtag — back then like a Hillary Clinton hashtag called “I’m with her,” then what that would be is I would say, okay, let’s take “I’m with her” hashtag, because that’s what Hillary Clinton voters are going to be looking at, because that’s their hashtag, and then I would tweet out thousands of — of tweets of — well, for example, old videos of Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton talking about, you know, immigration policy for back in the ’90s where they said: You know, we should shut down borders, kick out people from the USA. Anything that was disparaging of Hillary Clinton would be injected into that — into those tweets with that hashtag, so that would overflow to her voters and they’d see it and be shocked by it.

Q Is it safe to say that most of your followers were Trump supporters?

A Oh, yeah.

Q And so by hijacking, in the example you just gave a Hillary Clinton hashtag, “I am with her,” you’re getting your message out of your silo and in front of other people who might not ordinarily see it if you just posted the tweet?

A Yeah, I wanted to infect everything.

Q Was there a certain time of day that you believed tweeting would have a maximum impact?

A Yeah, so I had figured out that early morning eastern time that — well, it first started out with New York Times. I would see that they would — they would publish stories in the morning, so the people could catch that when they woke up. And some of the stories were absolutely ridiculous — sorry. Some of the stories were absolutely ridiculous that they would post that, you know, had really no relevance to what was going on in the world, but they would still end up on trending hashtags, right? And so, I thought about that and thought, you know, is there a way that I could do the same thing.

And so what I would do is before the New York Times would publish their — their information, I would spend the very early morning or evening seeding information into random hashtags, or a hashtag we created, so that by the time the morning came around, we had already had thousands of tweets in that tag that people would see because there wasn’t much activity on Twitter, so you could easily create a hashtag that would end up on the trending list by the time morning came around.

In the 2016 election, this methodology served to take memes directly from the Daily Stormer, launder them through 4Chan, then use Twitter to inject them into mainstream discourse. That’s the methodology the far right still uses, including Trump when he baits people to make his Truth Social tweets go viral on Twitter. Use Twitter to break out of far right silos and into those of Hillary supporters to recodify meaning, and ensure it all goes viral so lazy reporters at traditional outlets republish it for free, using such tweets to supplant rational discussion of other news.

And as Microchip testified, in trolling meaning and rational arguments don’t matter. Controversy does.

Q What was it about Podesta’s emails that you were sharing?

A That’s a good question.

So Podesta ‘s emails didn’t, in my opinion, have anything in particularly weird or strange about them, but my talent is to make things weird and strange so that there is a controversy. So I would take those emails and spin off other stories about the emails for the sole purpose of disparaging Hillary Clinton.

T[y]ing John Podesta to those emails, coming up with stories that had nothing to do with the emails but, you know, maybe had something to do with conspiracies of the day, and then his reputation would bleed over to Hillary Clinton, and then, because he was working for a campaign, Hillary Clinton would be disparaged.

Q So you’re essentially creating the appearance of some controversy or conspiracy associated with his emails and sharing that far and wide.

A That’s right.

Q Did you believe that what you were tweeting was true?

A No, and I didn’t care.

Q Did you fact-check any of it?

A No.

Q And so what was the ultimate purpose of that? What was your goal?

A To cause as much chaos as possible so that that would bleed over to Hillary Clinton and diminish her chance of winning.

The far right is still using this methodology to make the corrupt but not exceptional behavior of Hunter Biden into a topic that convinces half the electorate that Joe Biden is as corrupt as Donald Trump. They’ve used this methodology to get the vast majority of media outlets to chase Hunter Biden’s dick pics like six year old chasing soccer balls.

Back in 2016, the trolls had a good sense of how their efforts helped to support Trump’s electoral goals. In April 2016, for example, Baked Alaska pitched peeling off about a quarter of Bernie Sanders’ votes. “Imagine if we got even 25% of bernie supporters to ragevote for trump.” On November 2, 2016, the same day he posted the meme that got him prosecuted, Mackey explained that the key to winning PA was “to drive up turnout with non-college whites, and limit black turnout.” One user, 1080p, seemed to have special skills — if not sources — to adopt the look and feel of both campaigns.

And this effort worked in close parallel to Trump’s efforts. As early as April, Baked Alaska invited Mackey to join a campaign slack “for more coordinated efforts.”

And there are several participants in the troll chatrooms whose actions or efforts to shield their true identities suggest they may be closely coordinating efforts as well.

Even in the unfettered world of 2016, Twitter’s anemic efforts to limit the trolls’ manipulation of Twitter was a common point of discussion.

For example, as the trolls were trying to get Podesta’s emails trending, HalleyBorderCol complained, “we haven’t been able to get anything to trend for aaaages … unless they changed their algorithms, they must be watching what we’re doing.” Later in October as they were launching two of their last meme campaigns, ImmigrationX complained,”I see Jack in full force today suppressing hashtags.”

Both Mackey and Microchip were banned multiple times. “Microchip get banned again??” was a common refrain. “glad to be back,” Microchip claimed on September 24. “they just banned me two times in 3 mins.” He warned others to follow-back slowly to evade an auto-detect for newly created accounts. “some folks are being banned right now, apparently, so if I’m banned for some reason, I’ll be right back,” Microchip warned on October 30. “Be good till nov 9th brother! We need your ass!” another troll said on the day Mackey was banned; at the time Microchip was trending better than Trump himself. Mackey’s third ban in this period, in response to the tweets a jury has now deemed to be criminal, came with involvement from Jack Dorsey personally.

Both testified at trial about the techniques they used to thwart the bans (including using a gifted account to return quickly, in Mackey’s case). Microchip built banning, and bot-based restoration and magnification, into his automation process.

2020: Insurrection

The far right trolls succeeded in helping Donald Trump hijack American consciousness in 2016 to get elected.

By the time the trolls — some of whom moved into far more powerful positions with Trump’s election — tried again in 2020, the social media companies had put far more controls on the kinds of viral disinformation that trolls had used with such success in 2016.

As Yoel Roth explained during this year’s Twitter hearing, the social media companies expanded their moderation efforts with the support of a bipartisan consensus formulated in response to Russia’s (far less successful than the far right troll efforts) 2016 interference efforts.

Rep. Shontel Brown

So Mr. Roth, in a recent interview you stated, and I quote, beginning in 2017, every platform Twitter included, started to invest really heavily in building out an election integrity function. So I ask, were those investments driven in part by bipartisan concerns raised by Congress and the US government after the Russian influence operation in the 2016 presidential election?

Yoel Roth:

Thank you for the question. Yes. Those concerns were fundamentally bipartisan. The Senate’s investigation of Russian active measures was a bipartisan effort. The report was bipartisan, and I think we all share concerns with what Russia is doing to meddle in our elections.

But in advance of the election, Trump ratcheted up his attacks on moderation, personalizing that with a bullying attack on Roth himself.

In the spring of 2020, after years of internal debate, my team decided that Twitter should apply a label to a tweet of then-President Trump’s that asserted that voting by mail is fraud-prone, and that the coming election would be “rigged.” “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” the label read.

On May 27, the morning after the label went up, the White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway publicly identified me as the head of Twitter’s site integrity team. The next day, The New York Post put several of my tweets making fun of Mr. Trump and other Republicans on its cover. I had posted them years earlier, when I was a student and had a tiny social media following of mostly my friends and family. Now, they were front-page news. Later that day, Mr. Trump tweeted that I was a “hater.”

Legions of Twitter users, most of whom days prior had no idea who I was or what my job entailed, began a campaign of online harassment that lasted months, calling for me to be fired, jailed or killed. The volume of Twitter notifications crashed my phone. Friends I hadn’t heard from in years expressed their concern. On Instagram, old vacation photos and pictures of my dog were flooded with threatening comments and insults.

In reality, though, efforts to moderate disinformation did little to diminish the import of social media to right wing political efforts. During the election, the most effective trolls were mostly overt top associates of Donald Trump, or Trump himself, as this table I keep posting shows.

The table, which appears in a Stanford University’s Election Integrity Project report on the election, does not reflect use of disinformation (as the far right complains when they see it). Rather, it measures efficacy. Of a set of false narratives — some good faith mistakes, some intentional propaganda — that circulated on Twitter in advance of the election, this table shows who disseminated the false narratives that achieved the most reach. The false narratives disseminated most broadly were disseminated by Donald Trump, his two adult sons, Tom Fitton, Jack Posobiec, Gateway Pundit, Charlie Kirk, and Catturd. The least recognized name on this list, Mike Roman, was among the 19 people indicted by Fani Willis for efforts to steal the election in Georgia. Trump’s Acting Director of National Intelligence, Ric Grenell, even got into the game (which is unsurprising, given that before he was made Ambassador to Germany, he was mostly just a far right troll).

This is a measure of how central social media was to Trump’s efforts to discredit, both before and after the election, the well-run election that he lost.

The far right also likes to claim (nonsensically, on its face, because these numbers reflect measurements taken after the election) that these narratives were censored. At most, and in significant part because Twitter refused to apply its own rules about disinformation to high profile accounts including but not limited to Trump, this disinformation was labeled.

As the Draft January 6 Social Media Report described, they had some success at labeling disinformation, albeit with millions of impressions before Twitter could slap on a label.

Twitter’s response to violent rhetoric is the most relevant affect it had on January 6th, but the company’s larger civic integrity efforts relied heavily on labeling and downranking. In June of 2019, Twitter announced that it would label tweets from world leaders that violate its policies “but are in the public interest” with an “interstitial,” or a click-through warning users must bypass before viewing the content.71 In October of 2020, the company introduced an emergency form of this interstitial for high-profile tweets in violation of its civic integrity policy.” According to information provided by Twitter, the company applied this interstitial to 456 tweets between October 27″ and November 7″, when the election was called for then-President-Elect Joe Biden. After the election was called, Twitter stopped applying this interstitial.”* From the information provided by Twitter, it appears these interstitials had a measurable effect on exposure to harmful content—but that effect ceased in the crucial weeks before January 6th.

The speed with which Twitter labels a tweet obviously impacts how many users see the unlabeled (mis)information and how many see the label. For PIIs applied to high-profile violations of the civic integrity policy, about 45% of the 456 labeled tweets were treated within an hour of publication, and half the impressions on those tweets occurred after Twitter applied the interstitial. This number rose to more than eighty percent during election week, when staffing resources for civic issues were at their highest; after the election, staff were reassigned to broader enforcement work.” In answers to Select Committee questions during a briefing on the company’s civic integrity policy, Twitter staff estimates that PIIs prevented more than 304 million impressions on violative content. But at an 80% success rate, this still leaves millions of impressions.

But this labeling effort stopped after the election.

According to unreliable testimony from Brandon Straka the Stop the Steal effort started on Twitter. According to equally unreliable testimony from Ali Alexander, he primarily used Twitter to publicize and fundraise for the effort.

It was, per the Election Integrity Project, the second most successful disinformation after the Dominion propaganda.

And the January 6 Social Media Report describes that STS grew organically on Facebook after being launched on Twitter, with Facebook playing a losing game of whack-a-mole against new STS groups.

But as Alexander described, after Trump started promoting the effort on December 19, the role he would place became much easier.

Twitter wasn’t the only thing that brought a mob of people to DC and inspired many to attack the Capitol. There were right wing social media sites that may have been more important for organizing. But Twitter was an irreplaceable part of what happened.

The lesson of the 2020 election and January 6, if you care about democracy, is that Twitter and other social media companies never did enough moderation of violent speech and disinformation, and halted much of what they were doing after the election, laying the ground work for January 6.

The lesson of the 2020 election for trolls is that inadequate efforts to moderate disinformation during the election — including the Hunter Biden “laptop” operation — prevented Trump from pulling off a repeat of 2016. The lesson of January 6, for far right trolls, is that unfettered exploitation of social media might allow them to pull off a violent coup.

That’s the critical background leading up to Elmo’s purchase of Twitter.

2024: Boosting Nazis

The first thing Elmo did after purchasing Twitter was to let the far right back on.

More recently, he has started paying them money that ads don’t cover to subsidize their propaganda.

The second thing he did, with the Twitter Files, was to sow false claims about the effect and value of the moderation put into place in the wake of 2016 — an effort Republicans in Congress subsequently joined. The third thing Elmo did was to ratchet up the cost for the API, thereby making visibility into how Twitter works asymmetric, available to rich corporations and (reportedly) his Saudi investors, but newly unavailable to academic researchers working transparently. He has also reversed throttling for state-owned media, resulting in an immediate increase in propaganda.

He has done that while making it easier for authoritarian countries to take down content.

Elmo attempted, unsuccessfully, to monetize the site in ways that would insulate it from concerns about far right views or violence.

For months, Elmo, his favored trolls, and Republicans in Congress have demonized the work of NGOs that make the exploitation of Twitter by the far right visible. More recently, Elmo has started suing them, raising the cost of tracking fascism on Twitter yet more.

Roth recently wrote a NYT column that, in addition to describing the serial, dangerous bullying — first from Trump, then from Elmo — that this pressure campaign includes, laid out the stakes.

Bit by bit, hearing by hearing, these campaigns are systematically eroding hard-won improvements in the safety and integrity of online platforms — with the individuals doing this work bearing the most direct costs.

Tech platforms are retreating from their efforts to protect election security and slow the spread of online disinformation. Amid a broader climate of belt-tightening, companies have pulled back especially hard on their trust and safety efforts. As they face mounting pressure from a hostile Congress, these choices are as rational as they are dangerous.

In 2016, far right trolls helped to give Donald Trump the presidency. In 2020, their efforts to do again were thwarted — barely — by attempts to limit the impact of disinformation and violence.

But in advance of 2024, Elmo has reversed all that. Xitter has preferentially valued far right speech, starting with Elmo’s increasingly radicalized rants. More importantly, Xitter has preferentially valued speech that totally undercuts rational thought.

Elmo has made Xitter a Machine for irrational far right hate speech.

The one thing that may save us is that this Machine for Fascism has destroyed Xitter’s core value to aspiring fascists: it has destroyed Xitter’s role as a public square, from which normal people might find valuable news. In the process, Elmo has destroyed Twitter’s key role in bridging from the far right to mainstream readers.

But it’s not for lack of trying to make Xitter a Machine for Fascism.

Three Things: Crustpunk Nazi Bar Update, $42K Extortion Edition

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

It’s been a while since we had a chat about the crustpunk Nazi bar known as Twitter. The dead-ending bird decided press the issue for us.

~ 3 ~

Community members have been asking in comments about the now-empty widget in the right-hand vertical navigation zone.

It’s dead, Jim.

The widget in the right-hand navigation column which featured latest tweets by emptywheel contributors no longer works because Elon Musk changed the business model at Twitter yet again, requiring users of Twitter’s API to pay $42,000 to continue to do so.

That kind of money can buy a lot of original reporting as well as platform updates and hosting.

The original developers of that widget also stopped servicing it years ago.

It will be replaced at some time in the near future with a Mastodon or Fediverse-friendly widget though we don’t have an estimated time to completion.

Bear with us on this matter, please and thanks.

You can continue to follow Marcy, bmaz, Ed Walker, and Jim White on the bird app without having to log in –- just click on the embedded links. Unfortunately this will also count as engagement at the crustpunk Nazi bar which Musk will use to continue to claim the bird app is a going concern.

Whenever the major news outlets and U.S. officials both elected and appointed – yes, taxpayer-funded persons are using the crustpunk Nazi bar – get their heads out of their asses and migrate from the Nazi bar, more of Team emptywheel will move as well. But as long as the media and government entities continue to use the Saudi-funded right-wing mouthpiece the bird app has become, some of the team will tweet there.

As for the exorbitant and extortive fee Musk wants for API access, the damage is not just emptywheel readers being unable to read tweets through this site.

Now academic researchers and NGO monitors of hate speech, illegal activity, disinformation, and foreign influence may no longer be able to access bird app content. That’s not a bug but a feature.

~ 2 ~

Speaking of hate speech and illegal activity and other content typically moderated by reputable social media platforms, Mike Masnick at Techdirt created and shared an excellent game in which players can experience what moderators must do to boot crap out of comments and still keep their jobs:

(Side note: Techdirt left the bird app this past week because of the $42K fee. Good for them.)

Moderation here at emptywheel is not as strenuous as Masnick’s Moderator Mayhem game because this site’s traffic simply isn’t a big factor 95% of the time. We can also predict most traffic spikes which lead to trolling upticks based on news events and specific posts as well, unlike most Big Tech social media platforms.

But the fuzzy nature of some comments which moderators must screen can be challenging and is likely to be more so over time here and at the big platforms as influence operations incorporate AI to weasel around moderation.

Unlike the Big Tech social media platforms this site doesn’t demand community members provide a cell phone number or verifiable email address or other personal data which links them personally to content they share in comments. It’s a careful balancing act between recognizing legitimate human participants commenting in good faith and assuring them privacy. Moderation at Big Tech socmed platforms compromises privacy to eliminate the necessity of validating legitimate community members.

Balancing community members’ privacy and site security means we spend a bit more obvious effort asking community members who want to comment to create and maintain a username which can be readily recognized over the history of their comments. The emergence of AI will make this more important to prevent spoofing of established community members.

All of which means emptywheel community members will continue to be nagged for a unique username consisting of a minimum 8 letters which they will use every time they comment, or risk moderation.

For more perspective on moderation, it’s worth reading Vanity Fair’s article about new socmed platform Bluesky’s problematic approach (or lack thereof) to moderation. You’d think Jack Dorsey would have had this nailed down before launch given his experience at Twitter but no – he’s proven he’s another “free speech absolutist” which is just code for crustpunk Nazi bar owner/operator.

~ 1 ~

Aside from how the bird app and moderation affects emptywheel’s site, the bird app continues to find out about its fucking around.

Or rather, certain persons foolish enough to trust Elmo and the bird app after he fired ~85% of its employees are finding out about Elmo’s fuckery.

In a debacle rivaling SpaceX’s 4/20 Starship launch explosion, we’ve all heard by now about Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis’ spectacular implosion on soft launch last Wednesday when Twitter Spaces failed to work as expected during his presidential campaign launch announcement.

One of Twitter’s top engineers, Foad Dabiri, quit on Thursday, amid much speculation the exit was due to the Twitter Spaces failure and not a resignation but a separation.

You’ll note the first comments at that Yahoo News piece are Elmo fanboi trolls who blame the Twitter Spaces’ failure on sabotage.

The other shoe dropped Friday: it seems Elmo didn’t pay the bill for the Redis Labs software which handled audio streaming traffic.

The best engineers in the world can’t turn a deadbeat into a viable production platform. No wonder the engineer left; one might wonder if Dabiri was a green card employee who had no choice to stay until it was obvious it would damage his personal cred.

The failure reflected badly not only on Elmo and Twitter but on DeSantis. Why would any sentient being risk their next desired job on a platform which has been riddled with problems since Elmo bought it, let alone a platform run by a guy who has twice tweeted supportive comments about a rival candidate Sen. Tim Scott and is in part funded by another major campaign contributor, Larry Ellison?

That’s just begging for an opportunity to find out.

~ 0 ~

As with all social media platforms, your mileage may vary. Engage wisely.

All Around the Chancery Court Elmo Chased to Weasel [UPDATE-1]

[NB: check the byline, thanks! Update(s) will appear at bottom of post. /~Rayne]

This isn’t going to be a very long post because others have already covered the news that Twitter, Inc. is no more having been subsumed by its successor, X Corporation.

See Slate’s coverage which has one of the earliest and more thorough reports, or TechCrunch’s report.

Elmo has been stuck on name X for decades; he named his online bank business launched in 1999 x.com. That business merged in 2000 with rival Confinity, an online bank founded by Peter Thiel and others. The merged entity became PayPal.

Before Elmo closed on the purchase of Twitter, he’d said that Twitter was a path toward a new online business based on an application.

The intention was to create an “everything app” as popular as TikTok and as encompassing as WeChat — both of which are Chinese apps.

The X naming convention is in head-to-head competition with Google’s X company founded in 2010 — “X, the moonshot company” as Google styles and tags the entity. Funny, that; both Musk and Google wanting off-world exploration.

It’s possible the move to dissolve Twitter, Inc. and reconstitute it under X corp is merely consolidation of Musk-helmed businesses in Nevada where parent organization X Holdings is already incorporated. Twitter was already a subset of a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) under the April 25, 2022 terms of sale.

The dissolution of Twitter as a Delaware corporation is merely the next step of the acquisition process.

However it’s an open question why Musk moved the entire corporation to Nevada instead of leaving Twitter in Delaware as Tesla, Inc. remains.

Could it be that Elmo is so afraid of Delaware’s Chancery Court and discovery should a lawsuit be filed against Twitter that he chose to weasel the corporation into Nevada to avoid it?

Here’s a list of advantages to incorporating a business in Nevada as compared to other states:

• Nevada law protects both directors and officers from individual liability for any acts committed by or on behalf of the business (with the exception of fraud).
• Jurisdiction for legal suits is in the state where the business incorporated.
• Nevada has significant privacy rights and doesn’t share any company information with the IRS. Therefore, no one will know the owner’s name of the corporation.
• You don’t have to identify the shareholders of the corporation.
• Unlimited stock is allowed.
• Nominee shareholders are allowed.

Could it be that Elmo is so concerned about his own personal liability that he moved the corporation to Nevada to avail himself of protections for owners/principals?

Or is one of these other advantages paramount — like the privacy rights which may be extended to investors like Prince Al Waleed bin Talal Al Saud or Marc Andreesen‘s a16z?

How will we know if/when the microblogging platform formerly known as Twitter becomes the agent of a foreign government should ownership shift even more substantially to foreign entities through a combination of equity and debt?

Whatever Musk has up his sleeve he certainly didn’t tip in his interview this week with the BBC,  which the Beeb summarized in six points:

1. He denies hate speech on Twitter has spiked
2. He voted for Joe Biden
3. He says Twitter is beating the bots in war on disinfo
4. He’s against banning TikTok
5. He would turn down $44bn for Twitter
6. He will back down on how BBC is labelled

I don’t know about you but I don’t believe most of this; it reads like the Liar’s Paradox.

Whatever this corporate shell game is about, I know Elmo is still burning Twitter down a bit more each day, including his labeling NPR as a “state-affiliated media” outlet after the GOP has ensured for decades public broadcasting must be starved of funding. Receiving but 1% of its annual revenues from the federal government, NPR has now left Twitter.

The departure of NPR and its 52 feeds makes this revenue forecast appear more reliable:

Oops, I mean this forecast:

Though it still looks like gambling, yes?

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 2:30 P.M. ET 13-APR-2023 —

And there it is, the birth of X Corp’s “everything app.”

CNBC: Twitter partners with eToro to let users trade stocks, crypto as Musk pushes app into finance

Who in their right mind would trust their financial information to Elon Musk’s latest Rube Goldberg machine?

Knowing the exposure this business has to foreign investors located in countries which have questionable affinities with the U.S., why would anyone do this if they weren’t a crackpot Elmo fanboi?

“I wanted to infect everything:” The Curiously Expert Pathologies of FBI Informant, Microchip

I’ve now read the substantive transcripts in the trial of Douglass Mackey, the far right troll who was convicted last month of conspiring to violate the voting rights of Hillary voters in the 2016 election.

As I noted in my first write-up of the verdict, the case has lessons that remain quite pressing, as loud boys on, who own, and claim to be interested in regulating Twitter attempt to make the site more welcoming to far right election disinformation. I plan to write that up.

Before I do, though, I want to talk about Microchip, the cooperating witness who pled guilty to the same conspiracy as part of a cooperation agreement in 2022.

We first learned the FBI had a cooperating witness on March 8 of this year, when Judge Nicholas Garaufis ordered the government to unseal its request to keep its informant’s identity secret. The filings in that discussion did not describe much about the timing or scope of his cooperation, other than that those he is targeting have the technical skills that might lead to him being hacked if he were discovered.

The fact of the CW’s cooperation is sure to be seen by many in that community as a profound betrayal, with the result that, at a minimum, online harassment is bound to follow the CW should his or her identity become a matter of public record. That harassment can have negative consequences in and of itself. In addition, to claim that intense online attacks do not endanger a person’s physical safety is to ignore the reality of our current world, as evinced in common newspaper headlines. See, e.g., Sheera Frenkel, The Storming of Capitol Hill Was Organized on Social Media, N.Y. TIMES, Jan. 6, 2021, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/06/us/politics/protesters-storm-capitol-hillbuilding.html; Eric Lipton, Man Motivated by “Pizzagate” Conspiracy Theory Arrested in Washington Gunfire, N.Y. TIMES, Dec. 5, 2016, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/05/us/pizzagate-comet-ping-pong-edgar-maddisonwelch.html. It is simply (and regrettably) a fact of the times that many acts of politically motivated violence in current society arise from campaigns of online harassment.

Beyond the risk to the CW, the potential consequences include the disruption of the CW’s ongoing work with the FBI. It is certainly true that the nature of this work is online and anonymous, but, if the CW’s name and location were to become known, the CW would become a target for all who believe that they might be under investigation (whether they are or not). Given the technical proficiency of those with whom the CW associates, it is not difficult to envision multiple scenarios in which the CW’s online work could be jeopardized by way of a cyberattack (at a minimum).

Microchip’s identity can’t be that well protected. As soon as this pre-trial discussion was posted, Mackey’s lawyer, Andrew Frisch, contacted the government to tell them he had learned of the informant’s real identity independently (possibly via Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet) and at least one researcher I’ve spoken with since seems to have a plausible theory as to his real identity.

But I assumed, based on those filings, that Microchip had flipped in advance of Mackey’s arrest.

The actual details are more complicated — and a bit unpersuasive, as AUSA William Gullotta got Microchip to explain in his testimony on March 23.

The thing I find most unbelievable is Microchip’s claim that he only joined Twitter — in any capacity — in July 2015, just months before he started playing a central and expert role in expanding the reach of anti-Hillary trolling.

Q When did you start using Twitter?

A Back in around July of 2015.

Q When did you start using the alias Microchip on Twitter?

A Anywhere from November 2015 through March 2016, somewhere around there.

I find this claim so surprising because, in his description of his trolling, Microchip described the kind of Twitter expertise that normally takes years to build. And two 2017 articles celebrating Microchip’s expertise (Buzzfeed, Politico) describe that he exhibited expertise from the start of his identity in November 2015.

For example, Microchip described how — the implication is all of his engagement was Microchip — he used various levels of operational security to succeed in creating new accounts anonymously, from the start.

Q When you would set up your accounts, did you set them up anonymously?

A I did.

Q How do you go about doing that?

A Using virtual private networks or proxy IP address services.

Q What’s a virtual private network?

A It’s, basically, somebody who sets up servers across the world in different locations and then you can tie into that service so you appear as if you are at that location and then they feed the internet through that.

Q So it would mask your true location from Twitter?

A That’s right.

Q What other information did you need to provide to Twitter to set up a new account?

A Yes, you need an email address or a phone number or both.

Q So would you just set up anonymous email addresses —

A Oh, yeah, through Google, Gmail, you set up a account and then you set up a Google Voice account and then if you need to change a phone number on that, you pay ten bucks and you get a new phone Number.

His description of various means to exploit Twitter to inject extremist views into the mainstream come off as pathological … but extremely savvy.

Q And why would you want it to be on a trending list?

A Because I wanted our message to move from Twitter into regular society and part of that would be — well it’s based on the idea that, you know, back then maybe — I don’t know, 10 to 30 percent of the US population was on Twitter, but I wanted everybody to see it, so I had figured out that back then, news agencies, other journalists would look at that trending list and then develop stories based on it.

Q What does it mean to hijack a hashtag?

A So I guess I can give you an example, is the easiest way. It’s like if you have a hashtag — back then like a Hillary Clinton hashtag called “I’m with her,” then what that would be is I would say, okay, let’s take “I’m with her” hashtag, because that’s what Hillary Clinton voters are going to be looking at, because that’s their hashtag, and then I would tweet out thousands of — of tweets of — well, for example, old videos of Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton talking about, you know, immigration policy for back in the ’90s where they said: You know, we should shut down borders, kick out people from the USA. Anything that was disparaging of Hillary Clinton would be injected into that — into those tweets with that hashtag, so that would overflow to her voters and they’d see it and be shocked by it.

Q Is it safe to say that most of your followers were Trump supporters?

A Oh, yeah.

Q And so by hijacking, in the example you just gave a Hillary Clinton hashtag, “I am with her,” you’re getting your message out of your silo and in front of other people who might not ordinarily see it if you just posted the tweet?

A Yeah, I wanted to infect everything.

Q Was there a certain time of day that you believed tweeting would have a maximum impact?

A Yeah, so I had figured out that early morning eastern time that — well, it first started out with New York Times. I would see that they would — they would publish stories in the morning, so the people could catch that when they woke up. And some of the stories were absolutely ridiculous — sorry. Some of the stories were absolutely ridiculous that they would post that, you know, had really no relevance to what was going on in the world, but they would still end up on trending hashtags, right? And so, I thought about that and thought, you know, is there a way that I could do the same thing.

And so what I would do is before the New York Times would publish their — their information, I would spend the very early morning or evening seeding information into random hashtags, or a hashtag we created, so that by the time the morning came around, we had already had thousands of tweets in that tag that people would see because there wasn’t much activity on Twitter, so you could easily create a hashtag that would end up on the trending list by the time morning came around.

Perhaps most chilling is his description of how participants in this anti-Hillary trolling knew there was nothing to the John Podesta emails they made the focus of their October 2016 trolling.

It didn’t matter. They didn’t care.

They were aiming to cause chaos to hurt Hillary’s chances of winning.

Q What was it about Podesta’s emails that you were sharing?

A That’s a good question.

So Podesta ‘s emails didn’t, in my opinion, have anything in particularly weird or strange about them, but my talent is to make things weird and strange so that there is a controversy. So I would take those emails and spin off other stories about the emails for the sole purpose of disparaging Hillary Clinton.

T[y]ing John Podesta to those emails, coming up with stories that had nothing to do with the emails but, you know, maybe had something to do with conspiracies of the day, and then his reputation would bleed over to Hillary Clinton, and then, because he was working for a campaign, Hillary Clinton would be disparaged.

Q So you’re essentially creating the appearance of some controversy or conspiracy associated with his emails and sharing that far and wide.

A That’s right.

Q Did you believe that what you were tweeting was true?

A No, and I didn’t care.

Q Did you fact- check any of it?

A No.

Q And so what was the ultimate purpose of that? What was your goal?

A To cause as much chaos as possible so that that would bleed over to Hillary Clinton and diminish her chance of winning.

Microchip was actually one of the people who, on October 30, 2016, brought the idea of getting Hillary voters to vote from home from 4Chan to the War Room where anti-Hillary trolls workshopped ways to make it more realistic and ensure that Trump voters wouldn’t also fall for the meme.

Text telling Hillary voters to tweet Hillary on November 8.

And, as he described it, during 2016, Microchip was paying up to $500 a month, between two services, to use bots to expand the reach of right wing trolling.

A Yeah, so one of the first services to kind of seed the followers was a service called Add Me Fast, A-D-D, M-E, F-A-S-T, and that service is kind of like a peer networking service where I would insert the tweet into that service, somebody else would insert a tweet and then, we would retweet each other’s information, right? And you could gain points doing that and, if you accumulate points, you can then expend those on likes, followers, retweets. So that service, I would spend sometimes $300 a month on it. That would give you around a thousand to three thousand retweets, likes, or follows.

[snip]

Another step is using Fast Followerz and that’s F-A-S-T and then F-O-L-L – – Q O-W-E-R-S? A Yeah, but it’s with a “Z,” it’s with a Z at the end. .com, yeah. And that service you spends like, a monthly fee of, you know, a hundred to two hundred, sometimes three hundred bucks a month. And they have control of all the bots, so you don’t actually retweet anything, but you put in your Twitter handle or you put in a tweet that you want to get retweeted, and the service that I would use would be 50 to a hundred followers, something like that, a day, and then those followers would also retweet or “like” my tweets anywhere from three to five times.

No one explained where Microchip came up with $500 a month to make anti-Hillary trolling go viral.

On cross-examination, however, Mackey’s lawyer, Frisch, did get Microchip to admit that when he started cooperating with the FBI on this case in 2021, he had both IRS and bankruptcy debts.

Also on cross, Microchip described that he’s not paid for any of the assistance he provides to the FBI — though as he prepared for the trial in February, he described liking the “structure” working with the FBI provided his life.

Q Without telling us what you’re doing, how often do you do this work for the FBI?

A As often as needed, essentially.

Q You’re not getting paid for it; right?

A That’s right.

Q In fact — in fact, you met with the FBI on or about February 23, 2023, earlier, about a month ago; do you remember that? Mr. Paulson was there, Mr. Gullotta was there. All three prosecutors were there.

A Yeah, I think that was here in Brooklyn.

Q And you asked — you said — you said — do you recall saying that you wanted to keep working with the FBI because the FBI provided a structure that was valuable to you?

[Frisch refreshes his memory with his 302]

Q And that’s what you said; right?

A Yes.

While the trial showed that Mackey was important to the effort to suppress the votes of Black and Latino Hillary voters because he had so much reach, particularly among the more general public in 2016, Microchip — who claims to have been a newB Twitter user in July 2015 — seems to have played a more important role in professionalizing all aspects of the anti-Hillary campaign.

Mackey made these memes popular; Microchip made them work.

Which makes the timeline more curious. By all appearances, the FBI knew of Microchip long before they charged Mackey, starting in 2018 (about eight months after Mackey was first IDed). That’s when he first offered to cooperate with the FBI.

A No. I talked to the FBI about being useful to them when they came and actually talked to me the first time. I discussed with the FBI in the car at my residence at the time. We actually sat in the car outside of my home, and I talked to them about my use of technology and how it could possibly be useful to whatever they might be working on.

They seem to have paid him a visit, as well, as they prepared to charge Mackey in December 2020. But even in spite of the fact that his key role in preparing anti-Hillary memes would have been readily obvious in warrants served on Twitter in advance of charging Mackey, the FBI didn’t charge Microchip along with Mackey in January 2021.

And only as they looked closer after he reached out did they decide they needed him to plead guilty.

Timeline

July 2015: Microchip joins Twitter

November 2015: Microchip starts to create his persona

April 5, 2017: Buzzfeed article quoting Microchip claiming, “it’s all us, not Russians” describing he turned to Twitter in response to November 2015 terror attacks in Paris

August 9, 2017: Politico article describing Microchip as an “early player” in hard-right Twitter chatrooms starting in November 2015

December 17, 2018: FBI questions Microchip about July 2018 online threat

December 15, 2020: Second contacts with FBI, including Megan Rees (about which Microchip tells Baked Alaska), Microchip lawyers up

January 27, 2021: Mackey arrest

February 4, 2021: Microchip’s lawyer reaches out to FBI, broaches cooperation

April 22, 2021: Formal proffer with government

June 2021: First of several agreements to toll statutes of limitation

April 14, 2022: Guilty plea

When Techbros’ Circle Jerk Becomes a Circular Firing Squad

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

I have been meaning to write a longer post about this topic but the events of the last 48 hours have forced me to stop snickering long enough to put up this post.

Here is a chart depicting Twitter’s current investors comparing their relative amount of commitment:

Here is a list of the investors’ names and the amount they’d committed at the time Elon Musk closed the deal to acquire Twitter.

In both graphics from Reuters above I’ve noted in red one name in particular — that of AH Capital Management, LLC.

A as in Andreesen, H as in Horowitz. As in the venture capital firm behind a16z.com.

As in the venture capital firm behind Substack.

Elmo is pissing on one of his investors because his investor’s investment decided to launch a competing platform.

Let that sink in, as Elmo so eloquently tweeted as he dragged a bathroom fixture into Twitter’s offices last October.

~ ~ ~

Axios beat me to making the observation about the financial relationship between Elmo’s Twitter and AH Capital in their article yesterday about Substack’s recent fundraising effort relying on crowdfunding.

Substack announced the offer to sell equity to writers on March 28, with its own writers’ investments prioritized over others who might choose to participate.

The fundraising effort followed an aborted fundraising attempt last year.

As Axios’ Dan Primack noted, the crowdfunding prospectus didn’t report this year’s financials, only the previous two years as required by law.

Substack’s founder Chris Best apparently believes Substack “doesn’t actually need the money,” forecasting profitability ahead.

This makes little sense to me.

What does make sense, though, is that the VC funding well may have run dry.

Take a look at the Form ADV – Uniform Application for Investment Adviser Registration and Report by Exempt Reporting Advisers, filed on March 31 this year with the Securities and Exchange Commission by AH Capital Management (hereafter a16z).

Caveat: it’s more than 400 pages long, might take a bit to browse.

I regret not downloading a copy when I first read this document in mid-March. I’d lost count as I scrolled through the form back then while counting the number of times SILICON VALLEY BANK and SVB appeared in the document as a second custodian for private funds.

You’ll recall SVB collapsed on March 10 this year.

The version of a16z’s Form ADV now shows SILICON VALLEY BANK, A DIVISION OF FIRST CITIZENS BANK reflecting the post-crash acquisition of SVB as part of a rescue plan. This new identity appears 84 times, with other financial management firms like J.P. Morgan, Merrill Lynch, and Raymond James each appearing in tandem but fewer times as fund custodians. None of the others appear as frequently as SVB.

While these financial managers are custodians, the frequency with which SVB is mentioned in a16z’s filing suggests a repeated relationship with SVB apart from fund custodian.

Is Substack’s renewed fundraising effort due to tightening of a16z’s financing capacity, possibly due to losses at SVB?

The Substack financials provided to potential crowdfunding investors certainly won’t shed light on their funders’ conditions.

~ ~ ~

What’s much more obvious about Substack’s recent launch of a microblogging platform “Notes” to complement its blog/newsletter format is its potential to draw down users from Twitter.

Substack Notes must also have cost some cash to develop and now going forward to administer.

It’s not clear whether the new microblogging platform will eventually offer an alternative source of monetization. It’s possible that Substack longform could remain subscription based as one revenue stream while Substack shortform could sell promoted Notes or advertisement space (Tumblr users will understand the advertising possibilities using scroll over content).

With advertisers abandoning Twitter causing its advertising revenue to tank by 89%, there’s money on the table out there somewhere waiting to be chased by a microblogging platform which isn’t a crustpunk Nazi bar. Is Substack positioning itself to sweep up some of the cash?

They may need to if Substack can’t go back to the VC well. Offering equity may be a way to ensure their longform writers stay on board with a change in business model since they may be happy to increase their earnings without having to hump more subscriptions.

There’s a limit to the subscription market, after all. How many subscriptions can the average reader afford?

~ ~ ~

It’s not just the possibility that the VC well has been affected by SVB’s crash; it’s the rolling damage to funding capacity caused by cryptocurrency ventures.

You’ll note in the Twitter financing graphics that cryptocurrency exchange Binance is a financier to Musk’s Twitter. Binance has been under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Justice; the latter has been split over whether to file criminal charges against Binance.

Fallout from the collapse of cryptocurrency exchange and hedge fund FTX also figures into the mix; it’s difficult for the public to readily determine which investment managers were exposed and how deeply unless the investment manager was so deeply over their heads in FTX that they are obviously failing — like Silvergate Bank which folded on March 9.

At that point it becomes an ourobouros eating itself since Silvergate’s collapse preceded and helped precipitate SVB’s collapse.

How much of Elmo’s desperate and sloppy flailing after cash through half-assed approaches like his new Twitter Blue is tied to the inability to seek more financing through non-traditional sources?

~ ~ ~

The stupidest part of all of this is that techbros did this to themselves through their own stupid hubris. Stupid, in that they didn’t bother to do their homework early enough to prevent this financial Jenga.

Hubris, in that they’ve acted like the rules don’t apply to them, as if they’ve got enough money they can throw it around endlessly without any concern they may be held accountable, as if rubbing their shoulders with people like themselves in their own circle is all they really need to assure their ongoing success.

Peter Thiel decided it was all about him and his immediate best buddies related to the Founders fund when he set off the bank run at SVB.

Never mind how this might affect the rest of the tech sector ecosystem, or the other non-technology businesses which had been persuaded to use SVB for their banking needs.

The PayPal Mafia-spawned techbro-hood finally failed its acolytes and the damage has yet to be fully realized.

I had $50m of my own money stuck in SVB,” Thiel told the Financial Times, omitting what you might imagine as the natural follow-on, “I can’t help it if I could run faster than the rest of you ahead of that grizzly bear gaining on us after I tweaked its nose.” But $50 million is loose change stuck in the cushions to a guy who made a billion on cryptocurrency, fortunately before the crypto-tulip mania began to crater.

Marc Andreesen and Ben Horowitz at a16z should have noticed much earlier that far too many of their investments overlapped either in the other financing on — like cryptocurrency exchanges — which they relied, or in the personalities of the techbros’ involved.

Did they buy into the hype about Elmo like so many Muskian fanbois? They could have done the legwork and discovered for themselves quite inexpensively what it is that Elmo didn’t want revealed in DE’s Chancery Court so badly that he scrambled out of exposure and simply closed on Twitter.

And then the others who have relied on a16z for funding like Chris Best at Substack, and all the writers who’ve signed up with Substack, all now hanging on to whatever it was that sold a16z about Elmo’s Twitter and the techbro ecosphere which banked at SVB…

Including Noam Bardin and Post.Media (Post Media, Inc.) which also received funding from a16z to launch as a Twitter competitor. The platform has not taken off as anticipated, its Terms of Service seen as stultifying and its flat excessively polished effect discouraging to building out social networking.

~ ~ ~

One other thing all these techbros who are pulling rugs out from under each other have in common: their age. The oldest are in their mid-50s and the youngest in their mid-40s. They’re old enough to have adult children, old enough not to want to sleep on the floor in their offices amidst pizza boxes and empty soda cans. Perhaps all of this bullshit circular firing squad among the techbros which leave us as collateral damage is really just a nasty mid-life crisis.

We should worry when they finally begin to clue into their mortality — one of them has already been eyeing the blood of teenagers for infusions as a fountain of youth, out of some sort of sick techbro vampirism. As if our social media environment and our nation’s economic welfare aren’t enough blood to siphon off.

The entire technology environment from social media to apps to network to cloud is ripe for a generational shift, a generation which won’t see the current techbros as the end-all-be-all of financing and development.

A generation used to being told to suck it up by guys who were born into wealth, hung out with wealthy tech dudes, and blinded by their own wealth, a generation used to screaming for relief while billionaire techbros blithely look to their own backsides is coming of age.

Elon Musk “Censors” Matt Taibbi’s Post about Twitter “Censoring” the “Hunter Biden” “Laptop” Story

Back in October 2020, #MattyDickPics Taibbi wrote a post on his Substack about the great scandal that Twitter throttled the dodgy NYPost story.

The incredible decision by Twitter and Facebook to block access to a New York Post story about a cache of emails reportedly belonging to Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s son Hunter, with Twitter going so far as to lock the 200 year-old newspaper out of its own account for over a week, continues to be a major underreported scandal.

The hypocrisy is mind-boggling. Imagine the reaction if that same set of facts involved the New York Times and any of its multitudinous unverifiable “exposes” from the last half-decade: from the similarly-leaked “black ledger” story implicating Paul Manafort, to its later-debunked “repeated contacts with Russian intelligence” story, to its mountain of articles about the far more dubious Steele dossier.

[snip]

The flow of information in the United States has become so politicized – bottlenecked by an increasingly brazen union of corporate press and tech platforms – that it’s become impossible for American audiences to see news about certain topics absent thickets of propagandistic contextualizing.

That makes the effect of Elon Musk’s decision yesterday to block links to Substack (as well as WordPress, on which this site is built) all the more tragicomic.

Here’s how that tragicomedy unfolded, in four five acts (note: Mehdi made the same joke I made yesterday at about the same time):

One:

Two:

Three:

Four:

Just days ago, as Mehdi Hasan shredded his false claims, #MattyDickPics squirmed as he explained that he had no criticism to make of authoritarian narcissist Elon Musk because he believed Musk intended to reverse what, #MattyDickPics claimed to believe, amounted to censorship from Twitter, including the throttling for 24-hours of one story from the NYPost.

Almost immediately after that, Elmo throttled not just #MattyDickPics’ own posts about “Hunter Biden’s” “laptop,” but scores of other such posts as well.

Update, Five:

Trump Edition: What Is And What Shall Never Be

Upon request I, hopefully, will come back to the big Alvin Bragg indictment of Trump. Later. When have really had a chance to digest and analyze it.

So far, at least, not too sold on it. Not like all the Boyz at Just Security, several of whom I respect, but they have been been overselling, led by Weissmann, this entire scenario mercilessly. To the extent of being dubious.

Anybody who thinks this is all cut and dried as Bragg makes it is a dope. To what extent we shall see. But, yes, we shall see. Tomorrow will be merely the start of the analysis, not merely the end like other dopes will tell you.

So, let us see what is, and what will never really be. They are very different things. Am prepared to be totally wrong. Are you? And how long are you willing to play the long game out?

Criminal law will never be your personal political savior.

Douglass Mackey’s Criminal Twitter Trolling

For the entire time since MattyDickPics started complaining about the fact he couldn’t see nonconsensual pictures of Hunter Biden’s dick, he and other apologists for disinformation have claimed there was nothing to the effort to suppress the vote using Twitter.

A jury in Brooklyn just decided otherwise. Douglass Mackey — who was indicted for attempting to suppress the Black and Latino vote in 2016 — was found guilty of conspiring to violate his targets’ right to vote.

As proven at trial, between September 2016 and November 2016, Mackey conspired with other influential Twitter users and with members of private online groups to use social media platforms, including Twitter, to disseminate fraudulent messages that encouraged supporters of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to “vote” via text message or social media which, in reality, was legally invalid. For example, on November 1, 2016, in or around the same time that Mackey was sending tweets suggesting the importance of limiting “black turnout,” the defendant tweeted an image depicting an African American woman standing in front of an “African Americans for Hillary” sign. The ad stated: “Avoid the Line. Vote from Home,” “Text ‘Hillary’ to 59925,” and “Vote for Hillary and be a part of history.” The fine print at the bottom of the deceptive image stated: “Must be 18 or older to vote. One vote per person. Must be a legal citizen of the United States. Voting by text not available in Guam, Puerto Rico, Alaska or Hawaii. Paid for by Hillary For President 2016.” The tweet included the typed hashtag “#ImWithHer,” a slogan frequently used by Hillary Clinton. On or about and before Election Day 2016, at least 4,900 unique telephone numbers texted “Hillary” or some derivative to the 59925 text number, which had been used in multiple deceptive campaign images tweeted by Mackey and his co-conspirators.

Several hours after tweeting the first image, Mackey tweeted an image depicting a woman seated at a conference room typing a message on her cell phone. This deceptive image was written in Spanish and mimicked a font used by the Clinton campaign in authentic ads. The image also included a copy of the Clinton campaign’s logo and the “ImWithHer” hashtag.

The people with whom Mackey conspired are a collection of leading figures in the (Russian-backed) alt-Right.

I plan to return to this trial in weeks ahead.

But for the moment, this verdict says that all the disinformation that Matt Taibbi and Elon Musk are working to replatform on Twitter has been found to be potentially criminal.

SDNY Calls DOJ’s Definition of the Espionage Act an “Academic Interest”

DOJ has now responded to my intervention in the Joshua Schulte case. Presumably because my motion, written by Kel McClanahan, focused on how flimsy the government’s claim to keep transcripts of a CIPA conference hidden, the government’s response pitches this as exclusively a CIPA battle. It’s totally a reasonable legal stance.

But along the way, in apparent effort to distract from the topic at issue — in part, the application of the Espionage Act to journalism — SDNY suggests it is just an academic interest whether DOJ would charge someone for sharing classified information already published by the NYT.

The mere fact that someone would like to know information is not a part of the right-of-access analysis, however, and the Government’s motion should be granted.

[snip]

Intervenor’s desire to speculate as to the potential application of the Government’s articulation of the elements of an offense to other circumstances has no bearing on the ability of the public to monitor or assess the actual rulings of the Court in the CIPA § 6 hearings to which Intervenor demands access.

[snip]

[T]he question is not whether redacted transcripts are coherent as a matter of language or whether they might be relevant to Intervenor’s academic interest.

I’m the intervenor here, not McClanahan (who is a professor on national security law at GW Law). I need to know this stuff not just to cover WikiLeaks (I’m more of an expert than the expert SDNY relied on in the first trial, Paul Rosenzweig), but also to understand my own exposure as a journalist.

Not once in the filing does the government use the words “Espionage Act.” Not once does DOJ mention “journalist.” Not once does it mention the NY Times, the hypothetical that DOJ is attempting to hide, which (as Judge Jesse Furman described in a court hearing) is this:

I gave you two hypotheticals. I think one is where a member of the public goes on WikiLeaks today and downloads Vault 7 and Vault 8 and then provides the hard dive with the download to someone who is not authorized to receive NDI, and I posed the question of whether that person would be guilty of violating the Espionage Act and I think your answer was yes. That strikes me as a very bold, kind of striking proposition because in that instance, if the person is not in a position to know whether it is actual classified information, actual government information, accurate information, etc., simply providing something that’s already public to another person doesn’t strike me as — I mean, strikes me as, number one, would be sort of surprising if that qualified as a criminal act. But, to the extent that the statute could be construed to the extend to that act one would think that there might be serious constitutional problems with it.

I also posed the hypothetical of the New York Times is publishing something that appears in the leak and somebody sharing that article in the New York Times with someone else. That would be a crime and there, too, I think you said it might well be violation of the law. I think to the extent that that would extend to the New York Times reporter for reporting on what is in the leak, or to the extent that it would extend to someone who is not in position to know or position to confirm, that raises serious constitutional doubts in my mind. That, to me, is distinguishable from somebody who is in a position to know. I think there is a distinction if that person transmits a New York Times article containing classified information and in that transmission does something that confirms that that information is accurate — right — or reliable or government information, then that’s confirmation, it strikes me, as NDI. But it just strikes me as a very bold and kind of striking proposition to say that somebody, who is not in position to know or does not act in a way that would confirm the authenticity or reliability of that information by sharing a New York Times article, could be violating the Espionage Act. That strikes me as a kind of striking proposition.

The government is no doubt exploiting the emphasis in my filing, but the notion that whether I can be charged for doing journalism is not an academic interest! It’s not just that there is an acute interest, amid the Julian Assange extradition proceedings, to know the government’s thinking about the Espionage Act, it goes to the chilling effect of not knowing what I can safely publish in the course of doing my job. I don’t have the luxury of “speculating” about the application of the Espionage Act, because if I guess wrong, I could be imprisoned for a decade.

The government wants this to be about CIPA. But the problem is that the government is attempting to hide something that is not classified — the elements of offense for a serious crime that can chill the ability to do journalism — via claims about CIPA.

Third, Intervenor asserts a First Amendment right of access premised on the assertion that “the Government present[ed] legal arguments about elements of the crime itself,” which Intervenor claims both have traditionally been open to the public and are of value to the monitoring of the judicial process. (D.E. 988 at 2). Intervenor’s contention that legal arguments the Government may have advanced at the Section 6 hearings are “something that interested persons in the field should know” (id. at 3) simply “cuts too wide a swath—taken to its extreme, considerations of logic would always validate public access to any judicial document or proceeding.” United States v. Cohen, 366 F. Supp. 3d 612, 631 (S.D.N.Y. 2019). Contrary to Intervenor’s suggestion that discussion of the elements of an offense “stray[s] far from a simple discussion of evidentiary issues” (D.E. 988 at 3), such discussion is integral to virtually any assessment of the relevance and admissibility of evidence, including that occurring in CIPA § 6 hearings, in which courts “look to what elements must be proven under the statute,” United States v. McCorkle, 688 F.3d 518, 521 (8th Cir. 2012); see also United States v. Bailey, 444 U.S. 394, 416 (1980) (describing need to “limit[] evidence in a trial to that directed at the elements of the crime”).

Tellingly, SDNY’s citation of a 2019 District opinion relating to the unsealing of Michael Cohen’s search warrants — which were released with redactions, the desired goal here! — is inapt to the question of whether the government should be able to hide its discussions of how it understands the Espionage Act by claiming that that needs to be protected as classified information.

Considerations of logic also counsel against recognizing a First Amendment right to access search warrant materials. Of course, public access to search warrant materials may promote the integrity of the criminal justice system or judicial proceedings in a generalized sense. United States v. Huntley943 F.Supp.2d 383, 385 (E.D.N.Y. 2013) (remarking that “the light of the press shining into the innards of government is necessary to inhibit violation of the public trust”). But such an argument cuts too wide a swath—taken to its extreme, considerations of logic would always validate public access to any judicial document or proceeding. Cf. Times Mirror Co.873 F.2d at 1213 (rejecting as overbroad the argument that the First Amendment mandates access to any proceeding or document that implicates “self-governance or the integrity of the criminal fact-finding process”); In re Bos. Herald, Inc.321 F.3d at 187 (“In isolation, the [rationale that the public must have a full understanding to serve as an effective check] proves too much—under it, even grand jury proceedings would be public.”). As the Ninth Circuit aptly observed, “[e]very judicial proceeding, indeed every governmental process, arguably benefits from public scrutiny to some degree, in that openness leads to a better-informed citizenry and tends to deter government officials from abusing the powers of government.” Times Mirror Co.873 F.2d at 1213.

Understanding the law is a matter that precedes the media’s scrutiny of whether the government abused the Espionage Act in this case (or in Julian Assange’s). And while the elements of the offense of the Espionage Act does dictate whether evidence would be helpful or not to the defense — the consideration of a CIPA hearing — ultimately this debate was about (and significantly appeared in) jury instructions, the law as applied.

Again, SDNY’s stance seems tactical, a response to our filing’s greater focus on matters of classification than the status of the press. But the outcome — SDNY’s claim that I have the luxury of merely “speculating” about the application of the Espionage Act — is alarmingly arrogant.


I was only able to make this challenge because McClanahan was able and willing to help — and he can only do so through the support of his non-profit. If you believe fights like this are important and have the ability to include it in your year-end donations, please consider supporting  the effort with a donation via this link or PayPal. Thanks!

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