(Ken Silva, Headline USA) The House Weaponization Subcommittee issued a report Tuesday accusing the Federal Trade Commission of “harassing” Twitter by, among other things, demanding details of the company’s interactions with journalists.
The subcommittee, which was formed to investigate the weaponization of federal agencies, argued that the FTC targeted Twitter in retaliation for billionaire Elon Musk purchasing the platform.
The subcommittee noted that Musk completed his acquisition of Twitter on October 27, 2022. Just two weeks later, the FTC launched the first of over a dozen demand letters to the company. “Between just November 10 and January 18, the FTC issued over 350 requests—an average of roughly 35 requests per week,” the Weaponization Subcommittee said in its report.
The FTC’s requests were ostensibly to check that Twitter was following proper cybersecurity and data privacy measures, as per a consent decree the consumer-protection agency put Twitter under last year.
But the Weaponization Subcommittee said that the FTC’s requests had nothing to do with privacy or cybersecurity.
The subcommittee spotlighted a particularly troubling request from the FTC, which demanded details of Twitter’s interactions with journalists, including “Bari Weiss, Matt Taibbi, Michael Shellenberger, Abigail Shrier,” and the identities of all other journalists to whom Twitter had potentially provided access of its internal records. This came only days after the first published report on the Twitter Files, the trove of internal documents showing the company’s censorship decisions.
“The journalists’ reporting did not concern private user data or information that Twitter users wanted private. Quite the opposite, the reporting in the Twitter Files concerned content that users attempted to publicly share but that the government had pressured Twitter to restrict,” the subcommittee said in its report.
“While the FTC’s inquiry would be inappropriate in any setting, it is especially inappropriate in the context of journalists disclosing how social media companies helped the government to censor online speech.”
Musk reacted to the subcommittee’s report on Twitter, calling the FTC’s actions “A shameful case of weaponization of a government agency for political purposes and suppression of the truth!”
He also deemed the FTC’s actions a “serious attack” on the Constitution.
This is a serious attack on the Constitution by a federal agency.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 7, 2023
The FTC, for its part, defended itself as engaging in normal consumer-protection enforcement. FTC spokesperson Douglas Farrar reportedly said in a statement that “it should come as no surprise that career staff at the commission are conducting a rigorous investigation into Twitter’s compliance with a consent order that came into effect long before Mr. Musk purchased the company.”
The report comes at a time when the FTC is still reportedly investigating Twitter’s privacy practices. To that end, Bloomberg Law reported Tuesday that the FTC plans to depose Musk as part of its ongoing probe.
Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.