Earlier this month, Elon Musk released revelations about Twitter’s aggressive efforts to censor a true story from the New York Post about Hunter Biden’s laptop. Subsequently, journalist and author Matt Taibbi published Musk’s findings in the form of a long thread on Twitter in order for the story to get a lot of exposure. Despite the damning nature of the information about Twitter’s actions, this important story has received very little to no coverage from major news outlets. Here are some of the disturbing findings of the report in case you missed them.
First, the revelations demonstrate how entities outside of Twitter can write to the company and request that Tweets be deleted. Taibbi shows screenshots of examples from where executives at Twitter share requests for censorship from the Biden campaign, and another executive responds “handled,” meaning that the speech has been removed. The DNC was another actor revealed in the files as having its requests to remove celebrities and ordinary Twitter users alike, and executives once again.
But, an objector might say, didn’t Republican entities also complain to Twitter? Yes, they did, and Twitter responded to censorship requests from both parties. However, the system of high-up officials at Twitter ensuring that requested material is removed depends on the asker having a friendly contact within the company. And, with 98.47% of political donations from Twitter employees going to Democrats in 2020, there are simply far more people working there who are supporters of the Democratic party than the Republican party.
Taibbi then explains how Twitter reacted to the Hunter Biden laptop story that the New York Post published on 14 October, 2020. This exposé based on data from the abandoned laptop revealed corrupt dealings of the Biden family with officials from a Ukrainian energy company as well as explicit videos of Hunter Biden himself. It took about two years after the New York Post broke the story for media outlets like CBS and NYT to final admit that it was real, but of course that was too little, too late.
Back when the story was first printed close to the 2020 election, one can see how it would have made Joe Biden look bad. So what would an overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning tech company do? Everything in their power to censor the story, of course! Twitter removed links to the story on its platform, created warnings that the story was “unsafe,” and even blocked people from sending the link to one another in private message. When the White House’s spokeswoman tweeted about the story, she was locked out of her account. The company responded to inquiries into why the laptop story had been banned from Twitter by saying that the content violates the company’s “hacked materials” policy.
Yet internal documents show that the “hacked materials” excuse was just a manifestation of Twitter employees scrambling for an explanation as to why they blocked a political story. They knew that their excuse was flimsy, but went ahead anyway. “Given the SEVERE risks here and lessons of 2016,” wrote one Twitter employee in the conversation about censoring the Biden laptop story, “we’re erring on the side of including a warning and preventing this content from being amplified.”
To his credit, Congressman Ro Khanna was the only major Democratic official to express concern with this obvious issue with freedom of speech. When he contacted Twitter, writes Matt Taibbi, the official who responded talked only of “Twitter policy, unaware Khanna [was] more worried about the Bill of Rights.”
After this exchange with Congressman Khanna, Twitter’s head of public policy received a horrendous email from the Orwellianly-named firm NetChoice, assuring Twitter that Democrats wanted more moderation (i.e. censorship) on the platform and that they don’t want to let “inept” companies allow other entities to make Democrats look bad. The email ends with the chilling words, “The First Amendment isn’t absolute.”
The revelation of this egregious politically-motivated censorship should have been a huge story. Yet the major media outlets of the US largely ignored it, or assured their viewers that there was nothing to the revealed information. In addition, other “journalists” attacked Taibbi’s character on Twitter over publishing information that every American ought to hear. I know that if the files had revealed the suppression of a story that made Trump look bad, my fellow academics would be incensed. But because the suppressed story made their team look bad, they don’t care.
The lack of anger in much of the country over the release of the Twitter files goes along with the findings of a 2020 study from Yale on American support for democracy. The authors find that most Americans are partisans first and small-d-democrats second. They employ double standards for the two parties, and although they value democracy, they don’t value it that much. And the liberal intellectual class of the US, as much as they like to think of themselves as the ultimate form of the enlightened citizen, are far from immune from throwing away democratic principles like freedom of speech if it helps their team win.
Read Matt Taibbi’s full thread here: