Elon Musk reminded his followers on Friday that owning Twitter now means he controls every aspect of the company – including what his employees said behind closed doors before he took over.
Earlier this week, Musk teased the release of what he called “The Twitter Files” He explained that the public “deserves to know what really happened” behind the scenes during Twitter’s decision to quash a story about Hunter Biden in 2020.
Musk delivered on Friday night, so to speak. Twitter’s new owner shared a thread by author and substack author Matt Taibbi, who now appears to be in possession of the trove of internal documents that he has painstakingly shared tweet after tweet in narrative form.
Taibbi noted on his substack that he had to “agree to certain terms” in order to land the story, though he declined to elaborate on what the terms were. (We suspect that sharing the docs in tweet form to increase platform engagement must have been on the list.)
Apparently, Taibbi’s decision to reveal a selection of the documents tweet by tweet was not careful enough. A screenshot, now deleted, released Jack Dorsey’s private personal email address. Another shared an unedited personal email from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) expressing concerns about Twitter’s actions at the time. Both incidents seem to conflict Twitter’s Anti-Doxing Policy.
The documents, most of which are internal Twitter emails, show the chaotic situation that prompted Twitter to censor a New York Post story about Hunter Biden two years ago. In October 2020, the New York Post ran a story citing materials purportedly from a laptop that the younger Biden left at a repair shop. With the presidential election looming and the hacked 2016 DNC emails and other interference in the Russian elections, Twitter decided to limit the story’s reach.
Speaking to members of Twitter’s communications and policy teams, Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, cited the company’s rules on hacked materials, noting the “serious risks and lessons learned from 2016” that are affecting decision-making influenced.
A member of Twitter’s legal team wrote that it was “reasonable” for Twitter to believe the documents came from a hack, adding that “caution should be exercised.” “We just need more information,” he wrote.
In his Twitter thread Taibbi characterized the situation of making such a consistent enforcement decision without consulting the company’s CEO as unusual. In reality, then-CEO Jack Dorsey was known for keeping his hands free at the company, working at times from a private island in the South Pacific, and delegating high-profile decisions himself to his policy team.
After Twitter acted, the reaction from outside the company was quick — and apparently including a Democrat. “…In the heat of a presidential campaign, restricting the distribution of newspaper articles (even with the NY Post far right) seems to provoke more backlash than good,” Khanna wrote to a member of Twitter’s policy team.
Facebook took similar action at the time. But Twitter was alone in its unprecedented decision to block links to the story, ultimately sparking a firestorm of criticism that the site gave the Democrats its thumb. The company, its former CEO and some political leaders have since described the incident as a mistake made out of excessive caution – a story corroborated given the newly released emails.
Musk has hailed the release of the emails as a smoking gun, but they mostly tell us what we already knew: that Twitter, fearing a repeat of 2016, took an unusual moderation step when it probably should have provided context and let the story circulate . has musk apparently steamed about the problem since at least April, when he called the decision to suspend the Post’s account “incredibly inappropriate.”
Files from the laptop were later verified by other news outlets, but in the early days of the story, no one could confirm that the documents were genuine and not tampered with, including social platforms. “Most of the data obtained by The Post lacks cryptographic features that would help experts make a reliable determination of authenticity, particularly in a case where the original computer and its hard drive are not available for forensic examination,” the Washington wrote Post in their own history reviewing the emails. The decision inspired Twitter to change its rules share chopped materials.
Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former Head of Trust and Safety, shared further insight into the decision in an interview earlier this week, noting that the story set off “alarm bells” signaling that it might be a hack-and- Leak campaign by Russian group APT28, also known as Fancy Bear. “Ultimately, it didn’t get to a point where I could comfortably remove this content from Twitter,” Roth said.
At the time, Dorsey admitted his guilt in a roundabout way. “Direct URL blocking was wrong and we’ve updated our policy and enforcement to address the issue,” Dorsey tweeted. “Our goal is to add context,” he said, adding that the company can now do that by labeling hacked materials.
Musk has since been engaged in a handful of specific content moderation decisions before you decide to buy the company. His frustration at Twitter taking down conservative satirical site The Babylon Bee for a transphobic tweet seems to have been the reason he decided to buy Twitter in the first place.
Now, two years after it happened, the Hunter Biden controversy on social media is still a sore point for conservatives, right-wing media and the new owner of Twitter. The platform’s past political controversies are mostly irrelevant now with Musk at the helm, but he still seems to have an ax with the Twitter of yore — and we’re seeing that unfold in real-time.