Free speech crusader Elon Musk is not happy with Twitter’s year-long decision to suppress a message about Hunter Biden’s laptop ahead of the 2020 presidential election. In a bid to restore “public confidence” in Twitter, Musk announced last month that he would release internal communications showing how things went.
That came in the form of a lengthy and painfully slow on Friday night tweet thread (it took a full two hours) from journalist Matt Taibbi, to whom Musk appears to have leaked the documents and coordinated the publication of his findings on Twitter.
Taibbi later deleted a tweet containing Jack Dorsey’s email address
Taibbi’s thread includes screenshots of emails between Twitter leadership, members of the Biden campaign and outside political leaders. At one point, there’s even a “confidential” communication from Twitter’s Deputy General Counsel.
The emails show that the Twitter team is struggling to explain how it’s dealing with the New York Post Story that broke the news of Hunter’s leaked laptop files — and whether they even made the right moderation decision. At the time, it was not clear if the materials were genuine, and Twitter decided to ban links to or images of them post‘s story citing its policy on distributing hacked materials. The move was controversial even then, mostly among Republicans but also among speech advocates concerned about Twitter’s decision to block a news outlet.
While Musk may be hoping we see documents showing Twitter’s (largely former) employees nefariously deciding to act in a way that will help now-President Joe Biden, the releases mainly show a team that debated how to finalize and communicate a difficult moderation decision.
“I’m struggling to understand the political basis for the labeling as unsafe,” wrote a former communications staffer. “Will we also mark similar stories as unsafe?” asked another.
Yoel Roth, Twitter’s then head of trust and safety, said the company decided to play it safe “given the SERIOUS risks here and the lessons of 2016.” Jim Baker, Twitter’s deputy general counsel, agreed that “we can reasonably assume it could have been them [hacked] and this caution is justified.”
Musk claims this is evidence of government interference, but it clearly isn’t
The emails don’t show how the initial decision was made – only that there were emails afterwards in which executives at Twitter debated whether it was the right choice. Taibbi reports that Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO at the time, was unaware of the decision.
Musk appears to be interpreting the events as evidence of government interference. “If this isn’t a violation of the First Amendment, then 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, flagged tweets on Twitter for “review” as part of its moderation guidelines before the election took place. Taibbi says, “There is no evidence — as far as I’ve seen — of government involvement in the laptop story.”
Meanwhile, Taibbi’s handling of the emails — which appear to have been given to him on Musk’s direction, though he only cites “sources on Twitter” — appears to have exposed personal email addresses of two high-profile executives: Dorsey and Rep Ro Khanna . An email address belonging to someone Taibbi identifies as Dorsey is included in a message in which Dorsey forwarded an article Taibbi wrote criticizing Twitter’s handling of him post Story. What appears to be Khanna’s personal Gmail address is included in another email in which Khanna criticized Twitter’s decision to postalso the story.
The story also revealed the names of several Twitter employees who communicated about the moderation decision. While it is not inappropriate for journalists to report on the involvement of public figures or key decision-makers, this does not describe all of the individuals named in the leaked communications. And given the buzz surrounding Hunter’s laptop, the leaked materials could expose some of those people to harassment. “I don’t understand why it is necessary to name names. Seems dangerous,” Twitter co-founder Biz Stone wrote tonight in apparent reference to the leaks.
Taibbi later deleted the tweet, which included Dorsey’s email address. The one containing Khannas is still active at the time of this writing. The edge Taibbi asked for comment but did not immediately receive a response. Twitter, whose communications team was dismantled during last month’s layoffs, also did not respond to a request for comment. Khanna and Dorsey also didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.