Free-speech crusader Elon Musk isn’t happy with Twitter’s years-old decision to suppress a news story about Hunter Biden’s laptop just ahead of the 2020 presidential election. So in an effort “to restore public trust” in Twitter, Musk indicated last month that he would release internal communications showing how it all went down.
That arrived Friday night in the form of a lengthy and arduously slow tweet thread (it took a full two hours to complete) from journalist Matt Taibbi, who Musk appears to have leaked the documents to and coordinated for his findings to be posted to Twitter.
Taibbi later deleted a tweet showing Jack Dorsey’s email address
Taibbi’s thread includes screenshots of emails between Twitter’s leadership, members of the Biden campaign, and outside policy leaders. At one point, there’s even a “confidential” communication from Twitter’s deputy general counsel.
The emails show Twitter’s team struggling with how to explain their handling of the New York Post story that broke the news of Hunter’s leaked laptop files — and whether they made the correct moderation decision in the first place. At the time, it was not clear if the materials were genuine, and Twitter decided to ban links to or images of the Post’s story, citing its policy on the distribution of hacked materials. The move was controversial even then, primarily among Republicans but also with speech advocates worried about Twitter’s decision to block a news outlet.
While Musk might be hoping we see documents showing Twitter’s (largely former) staffers nefariously deciding to act in a way that helped now-President Joe Biden, the communications mostly show a team debating how to finalize and communicate a difficult moderation decision.
“I’m struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this unsafe,” one former communications staffer wrote. “Will we also mark similar stories as unsafe?” asked another.
Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of trust and safety at the time, said the company had decided to err on the side of caution “given the SEVERE risks here and lessons of 2016.” Jim Baker, Twitter’s deputy general counsel, weighed in to agree that “it is reasonable for us to assume that they may have been [hacked] and that caution is warranted.”
The emails don’t show how the initial decision was reached — just that there were emails afterward in which leaders at Twitter discussed whether it was the correct choice. Taibbi reports that Jack Dorsey, who was then Twitter’s CEO, was not aware of the decision.
Musk seems to read the events as proof of government meddling. “If this isn’t a violation of the Constitution’s First Amendment, what is?” he wrote in response to one leaked email. But the email appears to show the Biden campaign, which is not a government entity, flagging tweets to Twitter for “review” under their moderation policies before the election took place. Taibbi says, “there’s no evidence — that I’ve seen — of any government involvement in the laptop story.”