U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

FTC orders Twitter to disclose names of journalists

Incident Details

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

The Federal Trade Commission asked Twitter in Dec. 2022 to disclose the names of journalists given access to internal company files, the so-called “Twitter Files.”

— REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
December 13, 2022

As part of an ongoing investigation, the Federal Trade Commission asked Twitter to disclose the names of journalists who were provided access to some of the social media company’s internal communications, the Wall Street Journal reported in March 2023.

The company has been subject to a consent decree since 2011, following multiple user data breaches, and is required to regularly conduct security audits and inform the FTC how it is handling sensitive data. In May 2022, Twitter agreed to improve its privacy practices as part of a settlement with the agency. According to The New York Times, the commission intensified its investigation into Twitter’s data and privacy practices following Elon Musk’s October 2022 takeover and subsequent mass reduction of the workforce.

On Dec. 13, the FTC sent a letter to Twitter questioning the decision to give journalists access to internal communications, which Musk dubbed the “Twitter Files.” The agency asked the social media giant to disclose the names of the journalists, to describe the “nature of access granted each person” and whether the information was disclosed in a way that “is consistent with your privacy and information security obligations under the Order.”

A select subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee released an interim report on March 7, 2023, alleging that the FTC overstepped its authority and has been harassing the company.

“There is no logical reason, for example, why the FTC needs to know the identities of journalists engaging with Twitter,” the report said.

In a statement to the Times, an FTC spokesperson said that the agency is working to protect user privacy, particularly in the wake of mass layoffs and budget cuts.

“Protecting consumers’ privacy is exactly what the FTC is supposed to do,” Douglas Farrar said. “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 Freedom of the Press Foundation, which manages the day-to-day operations of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, decried the request for journalists’ names as an alarming step toward government surveillance.

“Anyone who cares about the free press should be concerned by the FTC’s demand that Twitter identify journalists who have received information that might embarrass the administration, regardless of what they think of Elon Musk or Twitter,” Advocacy Director Seth Stern said in a statement. “The FTC should not have to violate the privacy of journalists to protect the privacy of Twitter users.”

Twitter, which has laid off its communications staff, responded to a request for comment with an auto-response of a poop emoji.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].