Musk Says FTC Probe of Twitter Is ‘Weaponization’ of Government and ‘Serious Attack’ on Constitution
Republicans in Congress said the FTC’s aggressive investigation is an attempt to harass the company and pry into deliberations that are outside the agency’s mandate.
Elon Musk is calling efforts by the Federal Trade Commission to force his company Twitter to release details about the journalists with whom it collaborated on the “Twitter files” exposés an effort in truth suppression by the Biden administration and a violation of the First Amendment.
Following reports that the FTC has sent more than a dozen demand letters to Twitter since he took over the company in October 2022 asking it for internal communications about layoffs, the company’s new Twitter Blue service, and Mr. Musk himself, the tech entrepreneur called the letters a “shameful case of weaponization of a government agency for political purposes and the suppression of truth.”
“This is a serious attack on the Constitution by a federal agency,” he added.
Portions of the letters were released by a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee that is investigating the so-called weaponization of the federal government. The committee said the FTC’s more than 350 demands are an attempt to harass the company and pry into deliberations that are outside the FTC’s mandate.
“The timing, scope, and frequency of the FTC’s demands to Twitter suggest a partisan motivation to its action,” a report by the Republican-controlled committee stated.
“There is no logical reason, for example, why the FTC needs to know the identities of journalists engaging with Twitter,” it added. “There is no logical reason why the FTC, on the basis of user privacy, needs to analyze all of Twitter’s personnel decisions. And there is no logical reason why the FTC needs every single internal Twitter communication about Elon Musk.”
Among the information demanded by the FTC was details about the journalists’ work on the Twitter files that focused on government collusion with tech companies to suppress content about the Covid pandemic and the 2020 presidential election. The agency also demanded “every single” internal communication relating to Mr. Musk, details about whether the company is selling office equipment, why it terminated a former FBI official who had been working at the company, and when it first conceived of the new Twitter Blue subscription plan. The agency also said it wants to depose Mr. Musk on the matters.
Twitter has been in the FTC’s crosshairs since 2010 over complaints about users’ privacy and who has access to their content and private messages. The company settled its dispute with the agency in 2022 by agreeing to pay a $150 million civil fine and to take a number of steps to protect users’ phone numbers and email addresses. The FTC maintains that the terms of that agreement allow them to intervene in the company’s internal affairs.
“Protecting consumers’ privacy is exactly what the FTC is supposed to do,” an FTC spokesman, Douglas Farrar, told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the existence of the letters. The agency is “conducting a rigorous investigation into Twitter’s compliance with a consent order that came into effect long before Mr. Musk purchased the company,” he added.
After being criticized for years by conservatives who believe the company, under its previous leadership, routinely censored right-leaning users and viewpoints, Mr. Musk’s takeover of the company was heralded as a chance to return it to its free speech roots. Since he took it over, Mr. Musk has reinstated accounts — including that of President Trump — that previously had been banned and dialed back its efforts to suppress certain viewpoints.
Mr. Musk also allowed a number of independent journalists access to the internal communications of its previous owners documenting widespread collusion between politicians, public health authorities, the intelligence community, and others with Twitter’s content moderators. The subsequent articles came to be known as the “Twitter files.”
The loosening of Twitter’s censorship regime and disclosures about collusion have rankled many Democrats and liberals in the Biden administration who are avid users of the platform. In November, within weeks of Mr. Musk’s purchase of the company, seven Democratic senators sent a letter to the chairwoman of the FTC, Democrat Lina Khan, urging her to crack down on the company.
“In recent weeks, Twitter’s new Chief Executive Officer, Elon Musk, has taken alarming steps that have undermined the integrity and safety of the platform, and announced new features despite clear warnings those changes would be abused for fraud, scams, and dangerous impersonation,” the lawmakers said.