Elon Musk and Matt Taibbi report on Twitter’s decision to censor the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020
On Friday, the Twitter CEO said he would publish “what really happened”
Elon Musk tweeted on Friday that he would publish the internal discussion among Twitter executives that led to the decision to censor the New York Post’s story on Hunter Biden’s laptop ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
Musk gave information to independent journalist Matt Taibbi, who then posted the “first installment in a series” of what they dubbed the “Twitter Files.”
3. The “Twitter Files” tell an incredible story from inside one of the world’s largest and most influential social media platforms. It is a Frankensteinian tale of a human-built mechanism grown out the control of its designer.— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) December 2, 2022
In a more than 40-tweet thread, Taibbi references what he said were emails and other communications between Twitter officials chronicling how executives made the decision to suppress the Hunter Biden news story. He also released what he said was evidence of Twitter staff yielding to outside pressures to “manipulate speech ... first a little, then more often, then constantly.”
“By 2020,” Taibbi wrote, “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.’”
One screenshot allegedly revealed Twitter staff saying they were “removing or reviewing” the accounts of users tagged for them by the “DNC” — presumably the Democratic National Committee.
When the New York Post published and then shared on Twitter their story about Hunter Biden’s laptop, Twitter suppressed the story by removing links and blocking those who tried to share it, even by blocking private direct messages between users. The public reason they gave for censoring the story was the company’s “hacked materials policy.”
Twitter also locked the account of then-White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany for tweeting about the story. This led to officials working for President Donald Trump’s campaign to send an email to Twitter employees asking for an explanation and accusing Twitter of partisan censorship weeks before the presidential election, according to Taibbi’s tweets.
Taibbi said documents show that executives at the “highest levels of the company” decided the laptop story violated the social media company’s hacked materials policy. Apparently the decision was made without CEO Jack Dorsey’s knowledge, with former head of legal, policy and trust Vijaya Gadde playing a key role, Taibbi wrote.
One employee accused the executives of “freelancing it,” and suggested the “hacking was the excuse, but within a few hours, pretty much everyone realized that wasn’t going to hold. But no one had the guts to reverse it,” Taibbi said.
24. “They just freelanced it,” is how one former employee characterized the decision. “Hacking was the excuse, but within a few hours, pretty much everyone realized that wasn’t going to hold. But no one had the guts to reverse it.”— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) December 3, 2022
As the internal conversation at Twitter continued, former Deputy General Counsel Jim Baker allegedly sent an email saying he supported Twitter’s action against the laptop story while they waited to determine if the material was hacked. “At this stage, however, it is reasonable for us to assume that they may have been and that caution is warranted,” Baker allegedly wrote, according to a screenshot from Taibbi.
Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, D-Calif., reached out to Twitter to raise First Amendment concerns over their censoring of media stories and locking the account of a White House Press Secretary, Taibbi said.
“[T]his seems a violation of the 1st Amendment principles,” Khanna allegedly wrote. “A journalist should not be held accountable for the illegal actions of the source unless they actively aided the hack. So to restrict the distribution of that material, especially regarding a Presidential candidate, seems not in the keeping of the principles of NYT v Sullivan.” Khanna continued, ‘I say this as a total Biden partisan.”
According to Taibbi’s reporting, CEO Jack Dorsey had been kept in the dark up to this point. Days after censoring the laptop story, Dorsey tweeted his regret over how the social media giant had handled things.
“Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable,” Dorsey tweeted on October 14, 2020
Taibbi said “the problem with the ‘hacked materials’ ruling, several sources said, was that this normally required an official/law enforcement finding of a hack.”
At the end of his Friday night Twitter thread, Taibbi said there was more to come, and Musk tweeted: “Tune in for Episode 2 of The Twitter Files tomorrow!”