By Jack Phillips
The Federal Trade Commission (FRC) allegedly demanded that Twitter owner Elon Musk hand the agency internal communications and information about layoffs as part of an investigation into the social media company, according to a House Judiciary Committee report.
On Tuesday, the committee’s report detailed alleged FTC attempts to pressure Twitter and made more than 300 demands of the company after Musk’s takeover in October of last year.
“Consisting of over a dozen FTC demand letters to Twitter that—in the span of less than three months following Musk’s acquisition—make more than 350 specific demands, this information shows how the FTC has been attempting to harass Twitter and pry into the company’s decisions on matters outside of the FTC’s mandate,” the House Judiciary Committee stated. “The timing, scope, and frequency of the FTC’s demands to Twitter suggest a partisan motivation to its action.”
On his social media platform, Musk issued a short response and accused the FTC of acting in an unconstitutional manner. He was responding to a post made by Stanford University professor Jayanta Bhattacharya, who has long been a skeptic of COVID-19 mandates, who also accused the federal government of overreach.
“This is a serious attack on the Constitution by a federal agency,” Musk wrote in response. “A shameful case of weaponization of a government agency for political purposes and suppression of the truth,” he also posted Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the FTC issued a response to news outlets on Tuesday and indicated the activity was part of the agency’s mandate.
“Protecting consumers’ privacy is exactly what the FTC is supposed to do,” FTC spokesman Douglas Farrar told news outlets, adding that the FTC is “conducting a rigorous investigation into Twitter’s compliance with a consent order that came into effect long before Mr. Musk purchased the company.” Farrar told the Wall Street Journal that it routinely tries to obtain information from companies that are under consent orders.
What the Report Alleged
The Judiciary Committee’s report provided examples of alleged FTC demands of Twitter. The agency sought information about journalists’ work protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment in attempting to expose Big Tech’s collusion with the federal government, the report stated.
It also wanted to see whether Twitter is “selling its office equipment,” reasons why Twitter sought to terminate former company general consul and former FBI official James Baker, and when the firm conceived the concept of Twitter Blue—the firm’s subscription service.
According to the report, the FTC wanted “every single internal communication ‘relating to Elon Musk,’ by any Twitter personnel—including communications sent or received by Musk—not limited by subject matter, since the day Musk bought the company,” and it sought “information disaggregated by ‘each department, division, and/or team,’ regardless of whether the work done by these units had anything to do with privacy or information security.”
“There is no logical reason, for example, why the FTC needs to know the identities of journalists engaging with Twitter,” the GOP-controlled House Judiciary concluded. “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.”
In November, Musk told Twitter workers that the firm would attempt to comply with the FTC’s mandates as Twitter has faced faced regulatory scrutiny over how it has used its data. The firm had an agreement with the agency to ensure that users’ personal data remains secure.
“We are in a continuing dialogue with the FTC and will work closely with the agency to ensure we are in compliance,” said Alex Spiro, a Musk lawyer, to the Journal last year.
Congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden’s administration have voiced public concerns after Musk’s takeover of the company, alleging that the platform could become insecure. Several Democrat senators on Nov. 17 asked the FTC to investigate the company.
“We fear that Mr. Musk’s reported changes to internal reviews and data security practices further put consumers at risk and could directly violate the requirements of the consent decree,” the senators wrote to FTC chair Lina Khan at the time. “One Twitter lawyer was concerned enough about potential legal violations and management’s attitude toward the consent decree that they advised colleagues to seek legal counsel.”