The Twitter Fizzle

Todd Spangler, in a mess of a Variety article:

The new disclosures, touted as “The Twitter Files,” were posted in a lengthy Twitter thread by investigative reporter and author Matt Taibbi (and retweeted by Musk). It’s based on “thousands of internal documents obtained by sources at Twitter,” according to Taibbi — shared with him, it would appear, with the blessing of Musk, the conservative tech mogul who is the world’s richest person.

In his newsletter, Taibbi said the process which produced this thread began four days prior and acknowledged he “had to agree to certain conditions” to cover it. Presumably, two of those conditions were to tweet his findings instead of putting them behind a paywall in his newsletter, and to not acknowledge Musk as the source of these documents.

If you are blessedly unaware of the backstory for Taibbi’s supposed blockbuster thread, Andrew Rice and Olivia Nuzzi reported it out back in September in New York magazine, except without nearly as much drama. Or you can read the story from Kate Conger and Mike Isaac, published in the NYT two days after the New York Post published its story about Hunter Biden’s laptop. Taibbi’s thread today backfilled context from Twitter’s side, but it does not undermine past reporting on Twitter’s decision.

But you might not know that if you read Spangler’s story:

“Twitter took extraordinary steps to suppress the story, removing links and posting warnings that it may be ‘unsafe,’” Taibbi wrote. “They even blocked its transmission via direct message, a tool hitherto reserved for extreme cases, e.g. child pornography.”

This is untrue by omission. As Micah Lee has repeatedly written, Twitter has used this tool to prevent distribution of Distributed Denial of Secrets materials. Under the same policy, it briefly blocked links to the Post story — which is what it said at the time — before lifting the block. This appears to be a rare demonstration of consistency in moderation. But it does not block Wikileaks links, raising questions about why DDoSecrets continues to be prohibited.


Musk, commenting on the reaction to the “Twitter Files,” tweeted, “Twitter acting by itself to suppress free speech is not a 1st amendment violation, but acting under orders from the government to suppress free speech, with no judicial review, is.”

What Musk is referring to here is that someone on Biden’s campaign team emailed Twitter with links to tweets containing nonconsensual nude images of Hunter Biden and others. There was almost no context in the email Taibbi published, and he did not add any aside from saying it was sent by a Biden staffer. But — and I cannot believe I need to say this, but — it matters what was in the tweets! The publication of nonconsensual or “revenge” pornography has long been prohibited on Twitter, and it is illegal in many regions. The removal of these specific tweets is not some kind of mysterious coverup.

What Musk does not say — and Spangler does not clarify — is that this entire ordeal took place before the presidential election. When these tweets were reported by Biden staff members, they were not acting as government officials. Twitter’s ability to decide whether to take action against its users and its internal processes for doing so is exercising its free speech in both law and spirit.

Perhaps the biggest wet blanket in Taibbi’s thread was his confirmation that government representatives were not involved in any moderation decisions around this story. Some staff members at Twitter decided all on their own that the Post story ran afoul of the site’s rules in a way that made sense at the time, and then some others raised questions about the decision, and then it was reversed. All of this was known already and was admitted by the company’s representatives.

Taibbi says tonight’s thread is just the first reporting he will do based on the documents leaked to him by Musk or someone acting on his behalf. I am sure there are people waiting for some smoking guns that prove some kind of specific political moderation bias, though one has yet to be seen in Twitter’s moderation decisions. I am certain there are going to be some embarrassing conversations in those files, especially for people who still work at Twitter and whose internal communications appear to have been unceremoniously dumped in the lap of a writer by the company’s new owner. But this thread? It is a mildly interesting distraction from Twitter’s current and much bigger problems.

I feel the worst for Hunter Biden, whose private struggles are treated by the worst kind of people as fodder for winning the political meme war. If the most serious allegations are true, which imply corruption of his now-President dad, that is a different story. For now, it is simply an exploitative and dehumanized glimpse into the darkest parts of his life.