The newest “Twitter Files” revelations show that a group of left-wing political operatives calling themselves “Hamilton 68” scammed millions of Americans into believing a secret network of Russian “bots” were manipulating Americans on social media and supporting right-wing messages.
Even worse, high-level Twitter employees saw the scam unfolding in real time and said nothing publicly. And in every instance, Hamilton 68’s claims about its pseudoscientific system for tracking Russian bots impugned conservatives and promoted Democratic Party interests.
The startling truth about Hamilton 68 was exposed this weekend thanks to reporting by independent journalist Matt Taibbi, who is one of a handful of journalists granted access by Elon Musk to internal Twitter records.
The damning revelations provide yet another example of establishment political players seeking to interfere in American elections by running clandestine information operations against the American public and manipulating credulous American reporters.
The operatives behind Hamilton 68 claimed to have assembled a dashboard that tracked accounts it claimed were Russian disinformation bots — i.e. automated social media accounts that work to amplify messages the Kremlin wanted to amplify.
But the records Taibbi posted show that an internal Twitter analysis found that Hamilton 68’s “proprietary” dashboard actually included regular American social media accounts.
In other words, a group of left-wing political operatives falsely claimed to have a way to measure the influence of Russian bots. Then they made dozens of politically expedient claims to media based on this flawed model, and those claims always worked to the detriment of conservative causes and candidates. The practical consequence was that anything promoted online by conservative social media users wound up being labeled as Russian disinformation.
Although Hamilton 68 kept their system secret, claiming that sharing their secret sauce with the reporters covering their claims would compromise their work, Twitter could see which accounts the group was calling Russian bots.
Internal messages show Twitter employees, including Yoel Roth, former Head of Trust and Safety, knew that the Hamilton 68 dashboard was bogus and its representatives were making outright false claims.
“I think we need to just call this out on the bullsh*t it is,” Roth said in one message.
The Hamilton 68 dashboard “falsely accuses a bunch of legitimate right-leaning accounts of being Russian bots,” he said in another message.
In another email, Roth said of the dashboard “virtually any conclusion drawn from it will take conversations in conservative circles on Twitter and accuse them of being Russian.”
Despite top Twitter employees knowing for a fact that Hamilton 68 was executing a disinformation campaign of its own, Twitter did not make any public statements correcting the record. As a result, Hamilton 68 operatives were able to spin yarns about a devious and clandestine network of Russian hackers who were, they claimed, secretly shaping online discourse for the benefit of former President Donald Trump and other conservatives.
The media, for their part, lapped up the narrative like hungry dogs. The propaganda campaign was so well-orchestrated that the vast influence of malevolent Russian bots became a given in the media and on the left, with outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, and Mother Jones all reporting credulously on the group’s claims.
Part of what helped Hamilton 68’s disinformation take root in the political media was its “Advisory Council” — a bipartisan panel of supposedly respected American and international political figures. That council included Mike Chertoff, former Homeland Security Secretary, Toomas Ilves, former Estonian president, Bill Kristol, one-time editor of the late Weekly Standard magazine, Michael Morell, former CIA director, John Podesta, longtime aide to the Clinton and Obama families, among others. The public face of the organization was a former FBI agent named Clint Watts, billed as an expert on counterterrorism.
With such well credentialed advisors, Hamilton 68 conveyed the kind of establishment gravitas that Washington Post and New York Times writers flock toward. On the basis of Hamilton 68’s fraudulent system, which was reported on uncritically by dozens of journalists, the general message that eventually became enshrined in American political discourse, especially left-wing social media, was: “Russians want everything American conservatives want, so if you’re a conservative in America, you’re a Russian stooge.”
Here are some of the news stories Taibbi identified as being influenced by Hamilton 68’s phony dashboard:
As Taibbi noted, the Hamilton 68 fraud also infected American academic institutions, with several prestigious colleges and universities putting forward academics who parroted the group’s claims.
In their public facing material, Hamilton 68 claimed that it had identified a secret network of 600 Russian bots, and that it could use these accounts to measure in which direction the Kremlin was trying to steer American political conversations.
“[T]here is no evidence to support the statement that the dashboard is a finger on the pulse of Russian information ops,” Roth said in a private message.
Another employee concluded: “Hardly illuminating a massive influence operation.”
In fact, according to Taibbi’s investigation, the accounts monitored by Hamilton 68 were mostly human-run, and mostly by Americans, Canadians, and British citizens.
“Real people need to know they’ve been unilaterally labeled Russian stooges without evidence or recourse,” Roth wrote.
Yet, for some reason, Twitter never spoke out publicly about the fraudulent disinformation op Hamilton 68 was running to undermine Trump and the Republican Party generally.
Why didn’t Twitter expose the fraud?
Emails obtained by Taibbi suggest the company feared getting into confrontation with the “Alliance for Securing Democracy,” the shadowy, well-connected parent group of Hamilton 68.
“We have to be careful in how much we push back on ASD publicly,” said Twitter’s Emily Horne, who went on to join the Biden White House.
You can read Taibbi’s full Twitter thread about Hamilton 68 here: