Elon Musk’s Twitter Files revealed quite a bit of detail about the former executives’ abuse of power while running the platform. In November, Elon Musk promised to release evidence of Twitter’s suppression of free speech and, on Friday, announced that he would unveil Twitter’s role in suppressing the Hunter Biden laptop news.
Elon Musk announced earlier on Friday that there would be a live Q&A, and we’ll update here when it goes live.
Here we go!! 🍿🍿 https://t.co/eILK9f3bAm
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 2, 2022
In his thread, Taibbi said that the Twitter Files “tell an incredible story from inside one of the world’s largest and most influential social media platforms.” He began by highlighting Twitter’s early days as a potential tool for enabling mass communication, “making a true real-time global conversation possible for the first time.”
He then shared that some of Twitter’s first tools for controlling speech were designed to combat spammers and financial fraudsters, but slowly over time, Twitter’s staff and executives began to find more users for the tools. “Outsiders began petitioning the company to manipulate speech as well,” Taibbi tweeted, adding that it was just a little at first, then more often, and then constantly.
9. Celebrities and unknowns alike could be removed or reviewed at the behest of a political party: pic.twitter.com/4uzkHnQ65E
— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) December 2, 2022
In the tweets above, Taibbi shared screenshots documenting that requests from “connected actors to delete tweets were routine.” Executives would write one another statements such as “Move to review from the Biden team.” and another one would reply, “handled.”
In addition to that, both celebrities and “unknowns” could be removed or reviewed “at the behest of a political party.”
Taibbi noted that both parties, such as the Trump White House and the Biden campaign, had requests received and honored, but the system wasn’t balanced. Instead, he said, 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.”
Taibbi shared a link with that statement from Open Secrets, which showed Twitter’s contributions to politicians. Following that, Taibbi shared more documents noting that the slant in content moderation decisions is visible and is the assessment of multiple current and high-level executives.
The Twitter Files, Part One: How and Why Twitter Blocked the Hunter Biden Laptop Story
In Part Of the Twitter Files, Taibbi started with the October 14, 2020, New York Post article titled BIDEN SECRET E-MAILS. “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 wrote.
Taibbi shared that Twitter locked White House spokeswoman Kaleigh McEnany out of her account for tweeting about the story, which prompted a letter from the Trump campaign staffer, Mike Hahn, who said, “At least pretend to care for the next 20 days.”
In response to that, Caroline Strom, Twitter’s public policy executive, sent out a “polite WTF query.” Taibbi noted that several employees picked up on the tension between the comms and policy teams and the safety and trust teams. The former had either little or less control over moderation.
“Strom’s note returned the answer that the laptop story had been removed for violation of the company’s “hacked materials” policy,” Taibbi wrote, sharing a screenshot of an email from Elaine Ong Sotto, Ops Analyst, Global Escalations Team. He also shared an archived webpage of Twitter’s Distribution of Hacked Material policy.
Continuing his thread, Taibbi pointed out that several sources heard about a general warning from federal law enforcement that summer about possible foreign hacks. He added that he hasn’t seen any evidence of any government involved in the laptop story. “In fact, that might have been the problem…”
He added that the decision was made at the highest levels of Twitter without the knowledge of Jack Dorsey, the platform’s then-CEO. Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s former head of legal policy and trust, played a key role, Taibbi wrote.
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
In the next tweet, Taibbi shared an exchange between Gadde and Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former trust and safety head. Trenton Kennedy, the comms official, wrote, “I’m struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe.”
Continuing on, Taibbi noted that Twitter’s former VP of Global Comms, Brandon Borrman asked if the team could truthfully claim that this was a part of Twitter’s policy. In response, the platform’s former Deputy General Counsel, Jim Baker, “seems to advise staying the non-course because ‘caution is warranted.’
Taibbi noted that a fundamental problem with tech companies and content moderation is that there are many people in charge of speech, yet they know or care little about it. He then shared an exchange between Democratic congressman Ro Khanna and Gadde.
Following the above communications, Taibbi noted that the head of public policy, Lauren Culbertson received a “ghastly letter/report from Carl Szabo of the research firm, NetChoice.” The firm polled twelve members of congress:9 Republicans and 3 Democrats from “the House Judiciary Committee to Rep. Judy Chu’s office.”
Continuing his thread, Taibbi pointed out that NetChoice informed Twitter that a “blood bath” awaited in upcoming Hill hearings. The screenshot he shared read: “High level take away–Every Republican said ‘this is a tipping point. It’s just too much.’ And both Democrats and Republicans were angry.”
The next screenshot Szabo that Taibbi shared read: “When asked just how bad this situation is, one staffer said: ‘it’s tech’s Access Hollywood moment and it has no Hillary to hide behind.’ Others were more blunt: ‘tech is screwed and rightfully so.'”
In the following screenshot, Taibbi described Szabo’s letter as containing “chilling passages relaying Democratic lawmakers’ attitudes. They want ‘more’ moderation, and as for the Bill of Rights, it’s ‘not absolute.'”
Taibbi commented that an amazing subplot of the Twitter/Hunter Biden laptop affair “was how much was done without the knowledge of CEO Jack Dorsey, and how long it took for the situation to get ‘unfucked’ (as one ex-employee put it) even after Dorsey jumped in.”
As he looked through Gadde’s emails, Taibbi noted a familiar name–his own. Jack Dorsey emailed her a copy of his Substack article blasting the incident, he noted. He added that there were multiple instances in the files where Dorsey intervened to question suspensions and other moderation actions for accounts across the political spectrum.
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