Free speech crusader Elon Musk is unhappy with Twitter’s yearlong decision to suppress a news report about Hunter Biden’s laptop just before the 2020 presidential election. So in an effort to “restore public trust in Twitter,” Musk indicated last month that he would release internal communications that would show how things went.
That arrived Friday night in the form of a long and laboriously slow tweet thread (it took a full two hours to complete) from journalist Matt Taibbi, to whom Musk appears to have leaked the documents and coordinated to post his findings on Twitter.
Taibbi later deleted a tweet with Jack Dorsey’s email address
Taibbi’s thread includes screenshots of emails between Twitter leadership, members of the Biden campaign, and outside policy leaders. At one point, there’s even a “confidential” message from Twitter’s deputy general counsel.
The emails show that Twitter’s team is struggling with how to handle the New York Post story that broke the news of Hunter’s leaked laptop files – and whether they made the right moderation decision in the first place. At the time, it wasn’t clear if the material was genuine, and Twitter decided to post links or images of the After‘s story, citing its policy on the distribution of hacked material. The move was controversial even then, primarily among Republicans, but also with speech advocates concerned about Twitter’s decision to block a news outlet.
While Musk may hope we see documents proving that Twitter’s (largely former) staffers nefariously decide to act in ways that have now helped President Joe Biden, the communications mostly show a team debating how to handle a difficult moderation decision. are completed and communicated.
“I’m struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe,” a former communications officer wrote. “Are we going to mark similar stories as unsafe as well?” 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 SERIOUS risks here and the lessons of 2016.” Jim Baker, Twitter’s deputy general counsel, agreed that “it’s reasonable for us to believe that they may be [hacked] and that caution is advised.”
Musk claims this is evidence of government interference, but it clearly isn’t
The emails don’t show how the initial decision came about — just that there were emails afterwards where leaders at Twitter discussed whether it was the right choice. Taibbi reports that Jack Dorsey, who was CEO of Twitter at the time, was unaware of the decision.
Musk seems to read the events as evidence of government interference. “If this isn’t a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution, what is?” he wrote in response to a leaked email. But the email appears to show that the Biden campaign, which is not a government agency, is flagging tweets to Twitter for “review” under their moderation policy before the election. Taibbi says “there’s no evidence – I’ve seen that – of any government involvement in the laptop story.”
Meanwhile, Taibbi’s handling of the emails — which appear to have been handed to him at Musk’s direction, though he only references “sources on Twitter” — appears to have revealed personal email addresses of two high-profile leaders: Dorsey and Representative Ro Khanna . An email address belonging to someone who identifies Taibbi as Dorsey is included in one message, in which Dorsey forwards an article Taibbi wrote criticizing Twitter’s handling of the After story. What appears to be Khanna’s personal Gmail address is included in another email, in which Khanna reaches out criticizing Twitter’s decision to close the Afteralso the story of.
The story also revealed the names of several Twitter employees who were in communication about the moderation decision. While it’s not inappropriate for journalists to report on the involvement of public figures or key decision makers, that doesn’t describe all of the people named in the leaked posts. And given the buzz surrounding Hunter’s laptop, the leaked materials could expose some of those people to harassment. ‘I don’t understand why naming names is necessary. Seems dangerous,” says Twitter co-founder Biz Stone wrote tonight in clear reference to the leaks.
Taibbi later deleted the tweet with Dorsey’s email address. The one with Khanna’s is still up and running at the time of writing. The edge contacted Taibbi for comment but did not immediately hear back. Twitter, whose communications team was dismantled during layoffs last month, also did not respond to a request for comment. Khanna and Dorsey also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.