Thousands of user accounts vanished from Twitter shortly after new Chief Executive Parag Agrawal took the reins in November from the outgoing CEO, Jack Dorsey. The tech giant claimed that the purges focused on eliminating bots and propaganda accounts, mostly from China.
In reality, however, Twitter’s digital street sweepers cast a much broader net, purging many right-wing accounts, including those that break news outside of mainstream coverage, such as Project Veritas.
A central and overlooked detail in Twitter’s new censorship regime is that Twitter’s new CEO was installed by neoconservative GOP megadonor Paul Singer through his hedge fund, Elliott Management. In 2020, Singer launched a shareholder campaign seeking to oust Dorsey as CEO. “Twitter’s management eventually reached a deal with Elliott by giving the firm and its ally, private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, three seats on Twitter’s board on the condition that Dorsey remained as CEO,” the Observer reported.
Singer’s role in Agrawal’s rise illustrates the interplay between the real power behind the GOP—wealthy donors—and the enemies of the party’s base within Silicon Valley.
For example, in December Twitter suspended the Project Veritas-affiliated Twitter account that posted a story that placed Rick Saleeby, a CNN producer on “The Lead with Jake Tapper,” at the center of a pedophilia scandal. In leaked text messages, Saleeby appeared to fantasize to a source about sex acts with his fiancé’s underage daughter. He also allegedly solicited sexually explicit photos of the source’s underage daughter. The scoop followed John Griffin, another CNN producer, being arrested and charged with federal child sex crimes.
Twitter’s action likely had to do with a new private information policy Agrawal enacted on Nov. 30. Under the change, posting “media of private individuals without the permission of the person(s) depicted” is prohibited. Apparently Saleeby is protected by this policy, but it’s unclear whether it will be enforced equally across the political spectrum. Indeed, Twitter called it an “error” when they initially banned left-wing accounts that publish private information with the intent of causing professional or reputational damage. “After this was rolled out, we became aware of a significant amount of coordinated and malicious reports, and unfortunately, our enforcement teams made several errors,” Twitter told The Independent.
Agrawal has described his views about content moderation as mitigating “harm” caused by “misinformation” in a recent interview with MIT Technology Review. “Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment, but our role is to serve a healthy public conversation and our moves are reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation,” Agrawal said. He added that Twitter is not a “neutral party,” and that it will defer on what is harmful to the wisdom of “credible sources.” In other words, those of mainstream left-leaning media.
Agrawal’s own tweets reveal his left-wing politics. “If they are not gonna make a distinction between Muslims and extremists, then why should I distinguish between white people and racists,” he tweeted in 2010, quoting anti-white comedian Aasif Mandvi. In 2017, Agrawal boasted about donating to the American Civil Liberties Union the day after then President Donald Trump suspended travel from countries that are hotbeds of terrorism, saying, “As an immigrant, I have always believed this country is better than this.”
In installing Agrawal as Twitter’s CEO, Paul Singer has effectively aligned himself with progressives who are calling for increased censorship against political opponents. Though he is a Republican, Singer is no friend to social conservatives. He has aggressively pushed the party toward embracing LGBT ideology and policy, such as gay marriage and special protections for transgender people. Indeed, the Singer-backed American Unity Fund, a GOP nonprofit for LGBT issues, played a critical role in creating Caitlyn “Bruce” Jenner’s gubernatorial candidacy in California. Jenner had attended Donald Trump’s inauguration as a guest of the American Unity Fund. In April 2021, Axios confirmed that an entourage of former Trump White House and campaign personnel had encouraged the run and were forming Jenner’s team.
Just before Singer and Elliott Management launched the effort to oust Dorsey, New York University professor and Twitter shareholder Scott Galloway wrote a scathing letter to Omid Kordestani, the company’s executive chairman. Galloway, who has called on tech companies to explicitly brand themselves as liberal, demanded Dorsey’s replacement and threatened to remove any directors standing in the way. Like others, Galloway claimed Dorsey’s dilettantism distracted him from managing the company effectively. But he also issued politically progressive grievances against Jack. “Fake accounts, GRU-sponsored trolls, algorithms that promote conspiracies and junk science, and inconsistent application of your terms of service have resulted in a firm that not only underperforms, but is dangerous,” Galloway wrote to Kordestani. He pointed to claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 election for Trump through Twitter.
It’s worth noting that the Trump-Russian dossier was cultivated in partnership between the intelligence firm Fusion GPS and The Washington Free Beacon, which reportedly receives significant funding from Singer. To be sure, Singer has denied any involvement in its creation. Still, Galloway essentially appealed to the atmosphere of paranoia of which the dossier was part to demand a heavier hand from Twitter.
In February 2020, Bloomberg News reported that Elliott Management had taken a significant share of Twitter and planned to oust Dorsey. Sources told CNBC the same shortly after. The Financial Times noted that Elliott Management had “threatened the board with a proxy contest to replace four Twitter directors” as part of its push against Dorsey. By March, Singer and his allies had beaten concessions out of Twitter. A deal saw new board members added while Dorsey was allowed to live on borrowed time. Twitter also agreed to buy back $2 billion in shares, partly funded by a $1 billion investment from Elliot Management’s ally, Silver Lake.
Following a steep sell-off of Twitter’s shares that May, Elliott Management increased its stake in the company by more than $200 million, sources told Bloomberg News. The rapid growth of Singer’s influence over Twitter naturally raised questions about policy due to his reputation as a corporate and political activist. Officially, he is prohibited from influencing the direction of the company. But personnel is policy, and who Singer appoints as CEO will fundamentally influence Twitter’s decisions.
Most recently, Agrawal’s regime changed its terms of service to punish users who claim that vaccinated people can spread COVID-19, sometimes banning them permanently. Singer’s fund happens to hold a significant stake in GlaxoSmithKline, the world’s largest vaccine company by revenue. After the drugmaker fell behind in coronavirus vaccine development, Glaxo recruited a senior Pfizer scientist who helped develop the pharma company’s jab, Bloomberg News reported. In a strongly worded letter calling for a major shake-up at Glaxo, Elliott Management criticized the medical giant’s “questionable initial strategic decision not to lead the global COVID-19 vaccination.”
The GOP’s alliance with megadonors like Singer perpetually disadvantages its own base, for the simple reason that his ideological and material interests are against them. Whether it is the Republican Party itself or a tech giant prone toward ideologically progressive censorship, following the money behind them often leads to the same pastures.
Paul Singer at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in 2011. (Copyright World Economic Forum, photo by Mortiz Hager/CC license, Flikr.)