Twitter is pushing back against claims made by conservative activist group Project Veritas that its employees monitor private user data, including direct messages. In a statement to media outlets, it said “We do not proactively review DMs. Period. A limited number of employees have access to such information, for legitimate work purposes, and we enforce strict access protocols for those employees.”
Earlier this week, Project Veritas, which produces undercover sting operations that purportedly expose liberal biases at media companies and other organizations, posted footage that appeared to show Twitter engineers claiming that teams of employees look at users’ private data. One engineer seemed to say that Twitter can hand over President Donald Trump’s data, including deleted tweets and direct messages, to the Department of Justice.
Twitter already issued a statement after the video posted saying it “only responds to valid legal requests, and does not share any user information with law enforcement without such a request.”
The company also said the Twitter employees shown in the video “were speaking in a personal capacity and do not represent or speak for Twitter” and added that “we deplore the deceptive and underhanded tactics by which this footage was obtained and selectively edited to fit a pre-determined narrative. Twitter is committed to enforcing our rules without bias and empowering every voice on our platform, in accordance with the Twitter Rules.”
Project Veritas has been called out for using unethical and deceitful methods in its investigations, most notably when it tried to trick the Washington Post into publishing a fake story about Roy Moore, who was then battling sexual misconduct allegations during his run for U.S. Senate, in an attempt to discredit the newspaper.
Twitter breaks down the number of legal requests it receives and responds by country to in its biannual transparency report. From January 1 and June 30, 2017, its most recent period reported, Twitter says it received 2,111 government information requests in the United States and produced at least some information for 77% of them.
Because of the sheer number of tweets, Twitter relies mostly on its anti-abuse algorithms to automate moderation work, including banning accounts and muting harassment. Twitter claims its tools are working, but the platform has also been hit with accusations of bias from all sides of the ideological spectrum. For example, late last year it enacted new safeguards after a contractor temporarily deactivated Trump’s account, but not before conservative commentators took the opportunity to claim it proved Twitter’s bias against the president.
Some conservatives and Trump supporters also complained after Twitter revised its verification policy and removed the blue checkmark from some white supremacists’ accounts, claiming they were unfairly targeted. But liberals have also strongly criticized Twitter because it refuses to take action against Trump’s account, even though they say it breaks the platform’s own rules against hate speech and incitements to violence.
TechCrunch has contacted Twitter for comment.