Secret Video Reveals Twitter Team Warned of ‘Shooting in the Streets’ Ahead of Jan. 6
Anika Collier Navoli was at her “wits’ end.” Twitter’s safety policy team had gathered via video conference to walk through what they expected to see the next day, Jan. 6, 2021, and began to argue.
Safety policy staff had clashed repeatedly with Twitter’s management over whether to take a tougher stance on incitement to violence by Donald Trump and his legions of election deniers. She and colleagues were seeing worrying signs and feared what might happen the next day. “There might be someone getting shot tomorrow,” one employee warned, according to a deposition given to the Jan 6. Committee.
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When the meeting ended Navaroli, a senior safety policy specialist on Twitter’s trust and safety team, Slack-messaged a colleague with a defeated summary. “When people are shooting each other in the streets tomorrow, I’m going to try and rest in the knowledge that we tried.”
Twitter had, once again, refused to codify the coded-incitement-to-violence policy, one that had already been drafted by its employees. Staff had tried to put such guidelines to paper in hopes that their superiors would respond to the encouragement to violence coming from Trump’s Twitter account and those of his supporters. The company would later tell the Jan. 6 Committee that it put the policy into place the moment rioters breached the capitol — a claim characterized as misleading by the committee in an unpublished committee staff report obtained by Rolling Stone. The last-minute enforcement, after weeks of neglect and pushback, left the Twitter moderators with little understanding of where and how it would apply, staff wrote.
The exchange, captured in a video that was recorded for the benefit of Twitter employees, now sits unreleased in the archives of the Jan. 6 Committee, along with other unreleased evidence obtained from the social media company by congressional investigators.
Rolling Stone has not been able to review the video of this meeting, but its contents have been independently described by multiple sources with direct knowledge of the footage.
House Republicans have already signaled a desire to revisit the subject of Twitter, the insurrection, and Trump’s suspension from the app. Shorty after the midterms, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) sent a letter to the Jan. 6 Committee demanding it preserve all of its records for a potential Republican meta-investigation — a move committee staffers interpreted as an attempt to rewrite the history of the insurrection and undermine their work.
The new Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. James Comer, has already written to former Twitter executives Vijaya Gadde, Yoel Roth, and James Baker for a planned hearing on the company’s blocking of the New York Post’s October 2020 story. For weeks, two people with knowledge of the situation tell Rolling Stone, top House Republicans have been actively planning to make the Elon Musk-backed “Twitter Files” stories a hallmark of the new Congress’ hearings early this year, all with House speaker McCarthy’s blessing. Witness lists have been prepped, and subpoenas related to “Twitter Files” content have been drafted, the sources add. One of the sources describes the “Twitter Files” as shaping up to be the “tip of the spear” for the House GOP’s efforts this year to probe the alleged liberal machinations of Silicon Valley giants.
Former committee staff who’ve seen the unreleased video say it paints a different picture of Twitter’s approach to content moderation ahead of Jan. 6 than the one articulated by the site’s new owner, Musk. Instead of the eager, censorious partisans depicted in the “Twitter Files” screenshots, a person familiar with the video says it shows “a [Twitter] management not on emergency footing, not prepared for the emergency interventions they would need, and kind of checked out.”
In the Jan. 5 meeting video, according to a deposition of pseudonymous Twitter whistleblower “J. Johnson,” staff repeatedly asked managers whether they could use a proposed coded incitement to violence policy drafted in the wake of Trump’s “stand back and standby” reference to the Proud Boys. But according to Johnson’s deposition, the company told staff the draft policy should not be used unless violence broke out, leaving the whistleblower to ask “Does that mean that we can’t take content down unless someone gets shot?”
Twitter also prepared an “Election Threat Model” which detailed the “estimated level of preparedness against certain threats and the risk those threats posed,” according to the unpublished committee staff report obtained by Rolling Stone. The threat model, according to the summary, showed that Twitter, in its own estimation, had “low-to-medium preparedness scores” for events involving “incitement to violence and policy violations by very-important-tweeters.”
In depositions published by the House Jan. 6 committee, Navaroli said she was speaking for posterity “knowing that the video was being recorded.” What’s not apparent from that deposition is that a complete recording of that Twitter policy meeting the day before the insurrection sits unpublished in the committee’s archives, former investigators tell Rolling Stone.
Through a spokesperson, Navaroli declined to comment.
This video is part of a collection of still-unreleased materials obtained by the committee which document the social media’s app’s response to the attack on the Capitol. The unreleased evidence includes Twitter’s internal timeline of events leading up to the insurrection, the draft of its coded incitement to violence policy, and the “Election Threat Matrix” the company made to prepare for a variety of worst-case scenarios in the lead up to the 2020 election.
But it’s unclear whether the materials will see the light of day now that the committee has disbanded and Republicans have taken control of the House.
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