by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The media fell head over heels for a shoddy propaganda operation spearheaded by an ex-FBI agent. Twitter, internally, understood the operation to be partisan hackery but never spoke out. Organizations full of influential ex-government officials promoted the operation. And it’s only thanks to Matt Taibbi’s most recent contribution to “The Twitter Files” that we know the full extent of institutional corruption in the mind-boggling case of Hamilton 68.
American intelligence operatives have a history of using credulous reporters to spread disinformation for political purposes. (Remember when President Nixon’s team forged cables about John F. Kennedy and tried to get them in Life? Or the fate of Jean Seberg and her baby, thanks in part to COINTELPRO and the Los Angeles Times?) We’ve learned more and more about this in the years after the Cold War, yet elite media outlets eagerly swallow tactical disinformation when it confirms their priors.
The consequence? Self-appointed disinformation police in government and media shape American politics with actual disinformation, crafted specifically to quiet dissent.
Given access to Twitter’s internal records by new CEO Elon Musk, Taibbi pulled the company’s communications surrounding Hamilton 68 and reported his findings last Friday. The project styled itself as a “dashboard” that tracked Russian disinformation on Twitter.
As Taibbi wrote, “The secret ingredient in Hamilton 68’s analytic method was a list of 644 accounts supposedly linked ‘to Russian influence activities online.’ It was hidden from the public, but Twitter was in a unique position to recreate Hamilton’s sample by analyzing its Application Program Interface (API) requests, which is how they first ‘reverse-engineered’ Hamilton’s list in late 2017.”
The files unearthed by Taibbi show Twitter’s internal audit of the Hamilton 68 list found it to be, in the words of former executive Yoel Roth, “bullish-t.”