WASHINGTON — Elon Musk promoted a series of tweets Friday showing that Twitter executives had trouble handling tweets related to a report on Hunter Biden’s laptop ahead of the 2020 presidential election, as the company took steps to block it.
“This is going to be amazing,” Twitter CEO Musk wrote ahead of the release of what he called “The Twitter Files,” a lengthy Twitter thread by journalist Matt Taibbi detailing internal documents Musk apparently gave Taibbi.
Musk, who last month urged his supporters to vote Republican, seemed to push the material to expose what he says is the political left’s hold on Big Tech.
Taibbi said she had to “accept certain conditions” to report the story, but did not disclose what they were. USA TODAY was unable to verify the authenticity of the email screenshots and other documents that make up the bulk of Taibbi’s reporting. The White House declined to comment.
The emails center on the debate within Twitter over whether censoring tweets promoting a 2020 New York Post story on Hunter Biden’s laptop was the right move. The Post story provided confidential information that news organizations, including USA TODAY, could not verify at the time.
Biden, his allies and former intelligence officials said the story was likely Russian disinformation. However, then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said the emails addressed to the young Biden were not connected, even as federal authorities continued to review whether the material was part of such a campaign.
According to Taibbi, Twitter blocked tweets from former Trump administration officials publicizing the article, prompting them to contact and reprimand the company for its actions. Meanwhile, members of the Biden campaign reported specific tweets to Twitter and requested that they be blocked.
USA TODAY has since verified the content of the tweets reported by the Biden campaign through open access tools and found that they were pornographic in nature or alluded to Hunter Biden’s sexual activities.
Here’s what the docs show and what they don’t:
Biden Campaign Flagged Tweets Ahead of Election Taibbi’s report reveals requests from President Joe Biden‘s campaign in the days leading up to the 2020 election for Twitter to remove tweets the campaign flagged. An email from a Twitter employee dated October 24, 2020 includes six links to tweets. “More to review from the Biden team,” the employee wrote. Another Twitter worker responded: “I handled this.” Taibbi goes on to write: “Requests from both the Donald Trump White House and the Biden campaign were received and honored.” does not provide examples of tweets that the Trump team flagged on Twitter.
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Taibbi argues that “this system was not balanced” because he says the majority of Twitter employees are Democrats. Making that case, she pointed to the Twitter team’s significantly higher campaign contributions to Democrats over Republicans. Notably, Taibbi’s report does not show the Biden campaign flagging the 2020 New York Post report that first revealed the existence of Hunter Biden’s laptop. ‘Caution required’: Twitter debated what to do with the New York Post storyTwitter removed links to tweets linking to the story, marked them as ‘unsafe’ and blocked the ability to send the story in direct messages. The Twitter team said the footage from Hunter Biden’s laptop was included in its “hacked materials policy.” But some on Twitter expressed concern. “I am struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe,” Trenton Kennedy, a Twitter communications officer, wrote in an email. Kennedy warned that the company says it is “waiting to understand” whether the New York Post story is the result of pirated material. “Can we honestly say that this is part of the policy?” asked Brandon Borrman, former vice president of global communications in an email. Jim Baker, Twitter’s deputy general counsel, responded that “caution is warranted” because it is “reasonable to assume” that the materials reported in the story were hacked. A Democratic congressman, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., whose district includes Silicon Valley, approached a senior Twitter executive with concerns that the decision to block the story violated “First Amendment principles.”
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‘A Twitter circus show,’ analysts say
Since his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter in late October, Musk has been trying to find a way to attract more money.
In November, Twitter briefly offered verified checks through an $8-a-month “Twitter Blue” subscription and has discussed other ways to attract advertisers, such as relaunching the short video platform Vine. Musk has also eviscerated staff through mass layoffs.
The financial pressures come after Musk saddled Twitter with $13 billion in debt to finance the deal, meaning the company must pay more than $1 billion a year in interest alone, the New York Times reported.
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Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives calls Taibbi’s Twitter thread a “Twitter circus show,” with Musk using his new ownership and showmanship to create as much political noise as possible to generate engagement on the Internet. platform that has sunk in recent years.
“At the end of the day, there are 44 billion reasons why Musk needs to increase engagement on Twitter. This will be the most overpaid M&A transaction in the history of technology, and I think Musk realizes the challenges ahead.”
Jared Holt, resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab, wrote that it is common practice for political campaigns to complain to social media companies and that Taibbi offered no evidence that Twitter gave special treatment to the Biden campaign. “We already know that major social media companies internally debate their moderation policies and are inconsistent with the enforcement of their decisions,” he wrote. “So what exactly is new in Taibbi’s revelations? He wouldn’t discuss almost anything, until now.”
Musk’s political views shift to the right
Musk’s push to bring the Biden story back into the spotlight comes after the billionaire has shown signs of aligning himself more closely with the political right.
On November 7, Musk tweeted a recommendation to vote for a Republican Congress in the midterms, “since the presidency is a Democrat.” He went on to say that he agrees “with some of the Democratic and Republican policies, but not all.”
In a November 25 tweet, Musk confirmed that he would support Ron DeSantis, a Republican, in 2024. In May, he acknowledged that he had previously voted Democrat but now believed it was “the party of division and hate.”
Twitter has also invited right-wing accounts to return to the platform under Musk, including former President Donald Trump. Trump was later banned from the platform in January 2021 due to risks that he would incite further violence following the January 6 attack on the capitol by his supporters.
What the politicians are saying and what could be next Republicans seized on the footage as evidence that Twitter tried to cover up a story unfavorable to Biden ahead of the election. “We are learning in real time how Twitter colluded to silence the truth about Hunter Biden’s laptop just days before the 2020 presidential election,” said House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. He promised that Republicans “will get answers for the American people” when they take control of the House next year. Democrats said there was no story. “Here’s the BIG REVEAL,” said US Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif. “Twitter received complaints from many people, including the Biden campaign, the Trump White House and your cousin’s friend. Sometimes Twitter would listen and sometimes not.”
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