The newly revealed “Twitter Files” show just how deeply the company was committed to censoring “harmful” information and political opponents.
- Twitter owner Elon Musk gave independent journalists Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss access to thousands of Twitter’s internal documents and allowed them to reveal details about the company’s censorship policies.
- Taibbi released the first rounds of his initial findings called “The Twitter Files” on Friday and promises the second road of releases on Bari Weiss’s Twitter account.
- He revealed over the course of 37 tweets that tools originally created to filter spam and fraud were eventually used to suppress political opinions.
- Says Taibbi: “This system wasn’t balanced. It was based on contacts. Because Twitter was and is overwhelmingly staffed by people of one political orientation, there were more channels, more ways to complain, open to the left (well, Democrats) than the right.”
- Chief among those actions were tied to the Hunter Biden laptop scandal revealed by the New York Post in October 2020.
- Tweeted Taibbi: “Twitter took extraordinary steps to suppress the story, removing links and posting warnings that it may be ‘unsafe.’ They even blocked its transmission via direct message, a tool hitherto reserved for extreme cases, e.g. child pornography.”
- Taibbi subsequently revealed on Tuesday that former FBI attorney and current Twitter Deputy General Counsel Jim Baker was fired for vetting and obstructing the release of Twitter’s communications and not properly delivering them without Musk’s knowledge.
Why It’s Important
Tesla CEO Elon Musk took over Twitter on October 27 and promised to make the platform more free-speech-oriented and transparent, as it had a reputation of suppressing political messaging, for the most part of people on the right.
The full release of the Twitter Files is not complete but details released thus far show the company was engaged in open collaboration with major politicians, working under the belief that “the first amendment isn’t absolute” and that preventing certain knowledge from spreading is necessary to protect democracy.
Taibbi’s Twitter thread goes into detail about its claims that Twitter internally began an open collaboration with politicians and activists and suppressed specific political opinions, providing screenshots from insiders in the company. He claims associates working with 2020 presidential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump requested Twitter to take down posts that negatively affected their campaigns.
“Slowly, over time, Twitter staff and executives began to find more and more uses for these tools. Outsiders began petitioning the company to manipulate speech as well: first a little, then more often, then constantly. By 2020, requests from connected actors to delete tweets were routine. One executive would write to another: ‘More to review from the Biden team.’ The reply would come back: ‘Handled,’” says Taibbi.
Twitter’s internal processes were far more censorious though and operated independently from activist requests or even CEO approval. Twitter specifically took aim at the New York Post’s story of President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden’s laptop, which dropped just three weeks before the presidential election and claimed the candidate’s son had illicit business dealings with foreign countries that his father has ties to.
Twitter removed links to the story, blocked direct messages that shared the story, and even blocked the New York Post’s Twitter account for reporting on it. The decision came from high up in the company but its CEO Jack Dorsey was unaware of the decision, which was made on the grounds that the story involved “hacked materials.” The trust and safety team though were unsure if the block could be defended on policy grounds but upheld the choice regardless, partially at the behest of now-deposed attorney Jim Baker who claimed that “caution is warranted.”
Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey applauded the Twitter Files but told Musk on Wednesday, “If the goal is transparency to build trust, why not just release everything without a filter and let people judge for themselves? Including all discussions around current and future actions? Make everything public now.”
Former President Donald Trump, who Taibbi notes requested specific tweets to be taken down, responded to the allegations by calling for the overturning of the 2020 presidential election, saying, “A massive fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great founder did not want, and would not condone false and fraudulent elections.”