Kick-starting a new row, Twitter CEO Elon Musk on Friday, 2 December, retweeted ‘The Twitter Files’ thread on how and why the micro-blogging site “suppressed” a story around Hunter Biden’s laptop.
What are The Twitter Files? “Here we go,” Musk said in the repost linking to the account of independent author and journalist Matt Taibbi, who published a series of tweets explaining why the tech giant decided to “suppress” the 'Hunter Biden story' in the final days of the 2020 presidential campaign.
But first, what did Taibbi say?
"Some of the first tools for controlling speech were designed to combat the likes of spam and financial fraudsters. Slowly, over time, Twitter staff and executives began to find more and more uses for these tools. Outsiders began petitioning the company to manipulate speech as well: first a little, then more often, then constantly," Taibbi tweeted.
He added, "By 2020, requests from connected actors to delete tweets were routine. One executive would write to another: 'More to review from the Biden team.' The reply would come back: "Handled."
The journalist shared screenshots of internal emails that contained links to tweets that were supposed to be deleted.
"Both parties had access to these tools. For instance, in 2020, requests from both the Trump White House and the Biden campaign were received and honored. However...This system wasn't balanced," he says.
"It was based on contacts. Because Twitter was and is overwhelmingly staffed by people of one political orientation, there were more channels, more ways to complain, open to the left (well, Democrats) than the right," the journalist added.
Taibbi then added about the strategies used by the site to suppress the ‘Biden Hunter laptop’ story, but let’s back up.
What was the Biden Hunter laptop story? An article by The New York Post had reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had seized a computer that purportedly belonged to Hunter Biden.
Documents purportedly recovered from the laptop and accusations from Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W Giuliani formed the basis for the article which stated that as vice president, Joe Biden had shaped American foreign policy in Ukraine to benefit his son.
The New York Post article reportedly learned of the emails' existence from Trump's ex-White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, and obtained the emails from Giuliani.
Coming back to Taibbi: "Twitter took extraordinary steps to suppress the story, removing links and posting warnings that it may be "unsafe." They even blocked its transmission via direct message, a tool hitherto reserved for extreme cases, eg, child pornography," he tweeted.
The journalist said in another tweet, "White House spokeswoman Kaleigh McEnany was locked out of her account for tweeting about the story, prompting a furious letter from Trump campaign staffer Mike Hahn, who seethed: "At least pretend to care for the next 20 days."
Who are the two Indian-Americans involved in the controversy?
According to Elon Musk, Vijaya Gadde, the former Chief Legal Officer at Twitter, had a "significant role" in the suppression of the story in 2020.
The other Indian-American involved is Ro Khanna, the Democratic Congressman representing Silicon Valley in the US House of Representatives.
According to Matt Taibbi’s tweets, Ro Khanna appears to have questioned the Twitter's decision to restrict access to the New York Post report on Hunter Biden's laptop.
"I say this as a total Biden partisan and convinced he did not do anything wrong. But the story now has become more about censorship than relatively innocuous emails and it's become a bigger deal than it would have been."Ro Khanna wrote to Vijaya Gadde.
Khanna reportedly added, "In the heat of a presidential campaign, restricting dissemination of newspaper articles (even if New York Post is far right) seems like it will invite more backlash than it will do good."
He said that such a move by Twitter seems to be a violation of the 1st Amendment principles.
"If there is a hack of classified information or other information that could expose a serious war crime and the NYT was to publish it, I think NYT should have that right. A journalist should not be held accountable for the illegal actions of the source unless they actively aided the hack."Ro Khanna to Gadde.
In response to Khanna's email, Gadde defended Twitter's policy and its decision on the story, screenshots of which were shared by Taibbi.
"We put out a clarifying threat of Tweets earlier this evening to explain our policy around the posting of private information and linking directly to hacked materials."
But wait, there's more: She further wrote: "The press secretary's account was not permanently suspended – we requested that she delete the tweet containing material that is in violation of our rules and her account is restricted until she complies."
With further details on Twitter's "suppression" to be revealed, Musk said in a tweet, "Tune in for Episode 2 of The Twitter Files tomorrow!"
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