Elon Musk reminded followers on Friday that owning Twitter now means he controls every aspect of the company, including what employees said behind closed doors before he took over.
Earlier this week, Musk teased the release of what he called “The Twitter Files,” declaring that the public “deserves to know what really happened” behind the scenes during Twitter’s decision to suppress a story about Hunter Biden in 2020.
On Friday night, Musk more or less delivered. Twitter’s new owner shared a thread from author and Substack writer Matt Taibbi, who apparently now owns the trove of internal documents, which he chose to painstakingly share one tweet at a time, in narrative form.
Taibbi noted on his Substack that he had to “agree to certain terms” in order to land the story, though declined to elaborate on what the terms were. (We suspect sharing the documents in tweet form to increase platform engagement must have been on the list.)
Taibbi’s decision to reveal a selection of the documents one by one was apparently not meticulous enough. A screenshot, now deleted, published Jack Dorsey’s private email address. Another shared an unredacted personal email from Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA), who expressed concern at Twitter’s action at the time. Both incidents seem to collide Twitter’s anti-doxing policy.
The documents, which are mostly internal Twitter emails, show the chaotic situation that led Twitter to censor a New York Post article about Hunter Biden two years ago. In October 2020, The New York Post published a story citing material purportedly obtained from a laptop the younger Biden left at a repair shop. With the presidential election looming and the hacked DNC emails of 2016 and other Russian election meddling fresh in their minds, Twitter decided to limit the reach of the story.
Speaking to members of Twitter’s communications and policy teams, Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of Trust and Safety, cited the company’s rules on hacked content and pointed to the “serious risks and lessons of 2016” that affected on decision-making.
A member of Twitter’s legal team wrote that it was “reasonable” for Twitter to believe the documents came from a hack, adding that “caution is warranted.” “We just need more information,” he wrote.
In his Twitter thread, Taibbi characterized the situation of making such a consistent enforcement decision without consulting the company’s CEO as unusual. In reality, then-CEO Jack Dorsey was known for being hands-off with the company, sometimes working remotely from a private South Pacific island and delegating even high-profile decisions to his policy team.
After Twitter took action, the response from outside the company was swift — and apparently one Democrat too. “… In the heat of a presidential campaign, limiting the circulation of newspaper articles (even when NY Post is far right) seems to provoke more backlash than it does good,” Khanna wrote to a member of Twitter’s policy team.
Facebook took similar measures at the time. But Twitter was alone in its unprecedented decision to block links to the story, ultimately sparking a firestorm of criticism that the website put a thumbs up on for Democrats. The company, its former CEO and some policy officers have since described the incident as a mistake made out of excessive caution – a story that rings true in light of the newly published emails.
Musk hyped the release of the emails like a smoking gun, but they mostly tell us what we already knew: that Twitter, fearful of a repeat of 2016, took an unusual moderation move when it probably should have provided context and left the story behind. circulate. Musk has apparently stewed over the matter since at least April, when he called the decision to suspend the Post’s account “incredibly inappropriate.”
Files from the laptop would be later verified by other news outlets, but in the early days of the story, no one could confirm that the documents were real and not manipulated, including on social platforms. “Most of the data obtained by The Post lacks cryptographic features that would help experts make a reliable determination of authenticity, especially in the event that the original computer and hard drive are not available for forensic examination,” the Washington Post wrote. in its own article. story verifying the emails. The decision inspired Twitter to change its rules share hacked material.
Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of Trust and Safety, shared more insight about the decision in a conversation earlier this week, noting that the story raised “alarm bells” indicating it may be a hacking and leaking campaign by the Russian group APT28, also known as Fancy Bear. “In the end, for me, it didn’t reach a place where I felt comfortable removing this content from Twitter,” Roth said.
Dorsey admitted in a roundabout way that he was wrong. “Direct URL blocking was wrong, and we’ve updated our policies and enforcement to fix it,” Dorsey tweeted. “Our goal is to try and add context,” he said, adding that the company could now do that by labeling hacked material.
Musk has since engaged in a handful of specific content moderation decisions before deciding to buy the company. His frustration that Twitter suspended conservative satire site The Babylon Bee over a transphobic tweet seems to be the reason he even decided to buy Twitter to start with.
Now, two years after it happened, the Hunter Biden social media controversy is still a sore spot for conservatives, right-wing media outlets and Twitter’s new owner. The controversies over the platform’s past policies are now largely irrelevant now that Musk’s in the driver’s seat, but he apparently still has an ax to sharpen with the Twitter of yesteryear – and we’re seeing that unfold in real(ish) time unfold.