The second installment of the much-hyped “#TwitterFiles” debuted on Thursday night, with conservative writer Bari Weiss outlining — in a Twitter thread — what she described as the “shadow banning” of prominent conservatives including Charlie Kirk, Dan Bognino, and Libs of TikTok.
The #TwitterFiles represent an ongoing “leak” of documents revealing the social media giant’s past content-moderation decisions, directed by new owner and CEO Elon Musk. The files are being doled out to contrarian journalists including Weiss and Matt Taibbi, a Substack writer and former longtime writer for Rolling Stone.
The first #TwitterFiles installment, handled by Taibbi, turned out to be a “snoozefest,” detailing the social media giant’s efforts to stop circulation of dick picks from Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop. The second chapter underscores, potentially, more controversial practices.
Weiss posted screenshots of internal Twitter tools that moderators could use to limit the reach of posts and accounts. In the case of young conservative activist Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA — a frequent source of misinformation on Covid and elections — his account was marked “do not amplify.”
Bongino, a right-wing talk show host, was placed on a “Search Blacklist,” per Weiss. A Stanford professor who was promoting a dangerous “herd-immunity” agenda during the early days of Covid was also placed on a “Trends Blacklist” by Twitter moderators.
Weiss seems most concerned about the repeated suspensions of the account, Libs of Tik Tok, which Twitter dinged for indirectly violating (but not explicitly trespassing) Twitter’s “Hateful Conduct” policy. The account is infamous for highlighting members of the LGBTQ community, who end up being brigaded and harassed by online trolls.
The conservative writer also portrays such content moderation practices — and the internal debate around them — as nefarious and “secret.” But the Twitter thread lacks vital context. Most important, it does not address Twitter’s policy, announced in 2018, that it would begin throttling content that it deemed to “distract from the conversation.”
Weiss also does not explain how Twitter’s previous content moderation decisions are at odds with the current policy Musk himself announced for the company under his watch, insisting that Twitter would guarantee “freedom of speech” but not “freedom of reach” while committing to “de-boost” offensive content. (Musk has gone so far as to re-ban Kanye West for posting hateful content.)
Significantly, Weiss highlights only the controversial moderation decisions pertaining to figures on the right. This repeats an ideological pattern introduced by Taibbi — who highlighted Twitter’s reactions only to the Biden campaign, even as he recognized (in passing) that the Trump White House also made takedown requests for controversial content that were honored by Twitter higherups.
The setup — a conservative CEO leaking to right-leaning journalists — lends to the impression that the #TwitterFiles project seeks not so much as to get to the bottom of serious misbehavior, but rather to inflame the passions of those on the right who believe themselves to be victims of Big Tech bias.
Even the founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, argued that the public would be better served by a more transparent approach that cuts out the middlemen. “If the goal is transparency to build trust,” he asked Musk on Twitter yesterday, “why not just release everything without filter and let people judge for themselves?”