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Did Trump Show Printed-Out Tweets to Jack Dorsey? We Asked Digital Forensics Experts

President Trump brought a conspicuous stack of papers to his meeting with Jack Dorsey.

by Sarah Emerson
Apr 24 2019, 8:51pm

President Trump meeting with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey at the White House on Tuesday. Image: White House

President Trump and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey met on Tuesday under the auspices of having a “meaningful” conversation about the turbulent website.

But the president may have pushed another agenda. An official White House photo depicts what look to be papers containing tweets and photos, loosely stacked before Trump on the Resolute desk across from Dorsey.

Did Trump or some staffer screenshot disagreeable tweets? Who requested they be printed out?? How many are we talking about??? Why is he always so weird?????????

The closed-door meeting was initiated by the White House to discuss “the health of the public conversation on Twitter,” according to company emails obtained by Motherboard’s Joseph Cox and Jason Koebler. The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources with direct knowledge of the event, later reported that Trump complained that Twitter was docking or removing his followers.

Obviously, I wanted to know what was on those papers.

But this isn’t CSI, and there are limits to how a photo of a certain quality can be enhanced or embiggened.

“There are lines of text and images, obviously, but what they are is likely impossible to determine unless there is a much higher resolution version provided,” Jessica Fridrich, a professor at SUNY Binghamton who specializes in the forensics of digital imagery, told Motherboard.

It’s possible the original file was of a high enough resolution to zoom in and see what's going on, but there is “too much information lost in the process of resizing the image and uploading it to Flickr,” Siwei Lyu, an associate professor at SUNY Albany whose research includes digital forensics, told Motherboard.

Timmi Allen, an image and video analyst at Bellingcat, an investigative journalism outlet, generously took a stab at processing it for us.

“We think it’s a person, possibly Trump, leaning forward with both hands to their face, maybe eating or drinking something,” Nick Waters, a journalist at Bellingcat, speculated to Motherboard.

President Trump met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
One view of the papers after being processed by Bellingcat's Timmi Allen.

The image shows a Trumpish silhouette bent over—perhaps behind a desk, maybe in the Oval Office. Based on their hand position, this person could also be speaking on the phone.

Trump isn’t shy about being photographed, but no extant photos seem to match the one here. It’s possible the image is of Alec Baldwin portraying Trump on Saturday Night Live, which we know the president has watched and makes him mad. But again, hard to tell.

There’s also a line of text that resembles a tweet next to a blurry-as-hell avatar. I’m even less clear on this one. Though I could imagine Trump presenting a tweet that he claims has been "shadow banned," a conspiracy theory the president promoted in 2018.

When rendered another way, this time focusing on the paper’s upper half near Trump’s hand, it sort of looks to contain a graph.

“Possibly an engagement chart that Twitter generates—note the percentage number above the graph line,” Waters said.

President Trump meeting with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey
A second view of the papers after being processed by Bellingcat's Timmi Allen.

Any theory comes with “a degree of uncertainty, and even [an] expert couldn't guarantee text or a match with 100 percent certainty because of the data loss, and [the issue that] we can't see the whole page,” Jim Jones, an associate professor of digital forensics and cyber analysis at George Mason University, told Motherboard.

When Motherboard asked Twitter about the printouts, a spokesperson for the company ignored the question.

“Jack had a constructive meeting with the President of the United States [yesterday] at the president’s invitation,” the spokesperson said. “They discussed Twitter’s commitment to protecting the health of the public conversation ahead of the 2020 US elections and efforts underway to respond to the opioid crisis.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told Motherboard the office had "nothing to add beyond POTUS tweet."

No matter, I’m confident that someone knows. If you have any good guesses about what's on the paper, email me at sarah.emerson@vice.com or DM me on Twitter.