Twitter files: Execs debated blocking NY Post over Biden stories

Two years later, Elon Musk – Twitter’s mega-billionaire new owner – sponsored the release of documents showing the company’s internal deliberations on the suspension of the New York Post account for its coverage of Hunter Biden.

The new disclosures, touted as “The Twitter Files,” were posted in a long twitter thread by investigative reporter and author Matt Taibbi (and retweeted by Musk). It’s based on “thousands of internal documents obtained from sources at Twitter,” according to Taibbi — shared with him, it seems, with the blessing of Musk, the conservative tech mogul who’s the richest person on earth.

In October 2020, just weeks before the US presidential election, Twitter froze the New York Post account for 16 days after the newspaper published reports alleging that Joe Biden and his son Hunter were conducting corrupt businesses in Ukraine and made in China. Twitter initially said the Post violated its “hacked materials” policy and blocked the posting of URLs to the articles because the newspaper’s source for the Biden exposés was information from Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who said he had get them from a MacBook Pro by Hunter Biden.

“Twitter has taken extraordinary steps to suppress the story, removing links and posting warnings that it may be ‘unsafe,'” Taibbi wrote. “They even blocked direct messaging, a tool previously reserved for extreme cases such as child pornography.”

The decision to block the Post’s original Biden story, according to Taibbi, “was made at the highest level of the company, but unbeknownst to CEO Jack Dorsey, with former head of legal, policy and trust Vijaya Gadde playing a key role.” “.

Twitter executives knew there would be a backlash over the decision to taibbi block Hunter Biden’s article in the Post, and there was debate as to how to proceed. Trenton Kennedy, Twitter’s US policy communications manager, wrote in an internal email: “I’m struggling to understand the political basis for labeling this as unsafe.” Yoel Roth, head of security and integrity at Twitter ( who resigned just last month after Musk’s acquisition), responded that “the policy is based on hacked materials — although, as discussed, this is an emerging situation where the facts remain unclear.” Deputy General Counsel Jim Baker said that while Twitter needed more information about the situation, it was “reasonable to assume” that the materials forming the basis of the Post’s coverage were hacked, and he wrote that ” caution is advised”.

According to Taibbi, citing anonymous sources, Twitter’s policy on “hacked materials” typically required an official or law enforcement agency to determine that a hack had been committed — and nothing of the sort was evident in the case of the Post’s Biden stories.

Twitter subsequently reversed the decision, stating that it had updated its policy on hacked materials and would not apply it retrospectively to the New York Post. Other news outlets, including the New York Times, have since reported that the laptop did in fact belong to Hunter Biden and the documents on it were authentic. Predictably, Twitter’s blocking of the post became a rallying point for Republican politicians, who accused the social network of censoring conservative views.

Two days after Twitter blocked the Post’s Hunter Biden stories, Dorsey issued a mea culpa for the company’s actions. “Blocking URLs directly was incorrect and we have updated our policy and enforcement to address the issue,” Dorsey tweeted at the time. “Our goal is to add context, and now we have the ability to do that.”

Taibbi’s thread states: “One amazing subplot of the Twitter/Hunter Biden laptop affair was how much was done without CEO Jack Dorsey’s knowledge and how long it took for the situation to become ‘unfucked’ (as a former employee did put it ) even after Dorsey stepped in.” He also wrote, “There are several instances on file where Dorsey intervened to challenge suspensions and other moderation actions for accounts across the political spectrum.”

In April 2022, shortly after Signing agreement to purchase Twitter for $44 billion, Musk criticized Twitter’s decision to block the New York Post over the Biden stories. “Having a major news organization’s Twitter account suspended for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate,” Musk tweeted. The next day he posted a meme with photos of Gadde poking fun at the social network’s alleged “left-wing bias”.

Musk fired Gadde on the day he completed the Twitter acquisition alongside CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal and general counsel Sean Edgett.

Musk, a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist,” has complained that Twitter has a history of censoring conservatives and that under his ownership Twitter would adhere to strict principles of “free speech” — a stance critics have feared it will lead to an increase in misinformation and hate speech on the platform.

Last month, Musk decided to reactivate Donald Trump’s Twitter account, which was suspended in 2021 for his support for the Jan. 6 rioters who attacked the US Capitol. Additionally, Musk announced that Twitter would grant “amnesty” to banned accounts and reinstate them (“provided they haven’t broken the law or engaged in egregious spamming”) — including neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, founder of the white supremacist site The Daily Stormer, which Twitter banned in 2013. On Thursday, meanwhile, Musk banned Kanye West after the rapper tweeted an image of a Nazi swastika embedded in a Jewish star.

Taibbi said both Democrats and Republicans had access to Twitter’s tools to request review and removal of specific tweets. In 2020, he said, requests from both the Trump White House and Twitter’s Biden campaign had been received and fulfilled. “By 2020, requests from connected actors to delete tweets were routine. One executive wrote to another, “More to review from the Biden team.” The response came back, ‘Done,'” Taibbi said.

Musk commented on the reaction to the “Twitter files” tweeted“Twitter acting itself to suppress free speech is not a First Amendment violation, but acting on government orders to suppress free speech without judicial review is.”

Democrats had “more channels” and “more opportunities to complain” than conservatives about tweets, according to Taibbi, because “Twitter was and is predominantly occupied by people of one political orientation,” according to Taibbi, ie left-leaning. That led to a “bias in content moderation decisions,” he wrote, which he says was backed up by Twitter documents and “several current and former senior executives.”

Taibbi said his Friday “Twitter Files” thread is the first in a series. He said it’s been “a whirlwind 96 hours for me” on the project and promised that “much more is to come, including answers to questions on topics such as shadow banning, boosting, follower counts, the fate of various individual accounts and more. These issues are not limited to the political right.”

https://variety.com/2022/digital/news/twitter-files-blocked-ny-post-hunter-biden-censor-1235448481/ Twitter files: Execs debated blocking NY Post over Biden stories

Charles Jones

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