Elon Musk released the anticlimatic “Twitter Files” about “free speech suppression” by the social-media platform on Friday evening. On Monday, he teased the release, writing, “The public deserves to know what really happened …”
What followed after was a series of tweeted snippets detailing what the public has known—and what Twitter executives themselves have detailed over the past two years—about the company’s deliberation surrounding the New York Post’s publication of files from Hunter Biden shortly before the 2020 election.
“What you’re about to read is the first installment in a series, based upon thousands of internal documents obtained by sources at Twitter,” Matt Taibbi, Substack writer and former longtime Rolling Stone writer, darkly intoned Friday evening. But contrary to the melodramatic billing, the files mostly show what’s already been documented: that Twitter removed links to the Post’s story and files from Hunter Biden’s laptop and struggled with how to react to the surprise revelation of the leak of files from a presidential candidate’s son.
Twitter made “a total mistake” handling the Post story, former CEO Jack Dorsey said when questioned by lawmakers during a 2021 hearing about the company’s handling of the story.
The social media platform initially suppressed the story from appearing in its recommendation algorithms but then banned links to the story outright under its distribution of hacked materials policy.
“It was not to do with the content, it was to do with the hacked materials policy,” Dorsey explained during the 2021 hearing. “We had the incorrect interpretation. We don’t write policy according to any particular political leaning. If we find any of it, we write it out.”
Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety who resigned this month, also called Twitter’s handling of the Post story a mistake during an interview this month.
“We didn’t know what to believe, we didn’t know what was true, there was smoke,” Roth told Kara Swisher, a tech journalist, this month after leaving the company. “Everything about it looked like a hack and leak,” like the one carried out by Russian intelligence in the 2016 presidential election.
Taibbi and Musk’s “Twitter Files” appeared to add little beyond what former executives have said was a confused and bungled response.
Twitter blocked the distribution of the Post story not just in posts and direct messages, which Taibbi claimed leverage “a tool hitherto reserved for extreme cases, e.g. child pornography.” The tool has also been used to block other sources of banned context including the URL for Distributed Denial of Secrets, which shares hacked documents with journalists, as well as the Newsroom for American and European Based Citizens – a front organization for the Russian Internet Research Agency which meddled in the 2020 election.
In examples of what Taibbi characterized as wrongly removed content, the Substack blogger cited a number of tweets containing non-consensually posted intimate imagery of the former Vice President’s son, commonly referred to as “revenge porn.”
Responses online amounted to a collective yawn.
“Nice to land and read Twitter files only to find out there aren’t any(?),” one former Twitter employee quipped to Rolling Stone.
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“Dick pics are not a smoking gun, no matter how many times you say First Amendment,” posted Swisher.
While the first part of the series turned out to be a flop, Musk continued to tweet: “Tune in for Episode 2 of The Twitter Files tomorrow!”