In 2015, then-Twitter CEO Dick Costolo secretly ordered employees to filter out abusive and hateful replies to President Barack Obama during a Q&A session, sources tell BuzzFeed News.
According to these sources, the May 2015 #AskPOTUS town hall came out of Twitter senior leadership’s frustration with the fact that platforms like Reddit had become home to celebrity Q&As.
According to a former senior Twitter employee, Costolo ordered employees to deploy an algorithm (which was built in-house by feeding it thousands of examples of abuse and harassing tweets) that would filter out abusive language directed at Obama. Another source said the media partnerships team also manually censored tweets, noting that Twitter’s public quality-filtering algorithms were inconsistent. Two sources told BuzzFeed News that this decision was kept from senior company employees for fear they would object to the decision.
According to sources, the decision upset some senior employees inside the company who strictly followed Twitter’s long-standing commitment to unfettered free speech.
In its early years, Twitter took numerous public stands against censorship, even fighting a secret government order to provide user information for WikiLeaks. In 2011, Twitter senior executives published a blog post titled “The Tweets Must Flow.”