Twitter’s handling of the Biden laptop story risked the existence of the internet

  • Twitter’s decision to throttle stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop sparked bipartisan criticism.
  • Although the laptop has been authenticated, some reports of its contents have not been confirmed.
  • Some lawmakers have since called for the repeal of Section 230, a law “that created the Internet.”

New released Internal communications regarding Twitter’s decision to cap a New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop in late 2020 revealed that the social platform has faced widespread bipartisan criticism of its decision. Criticism has since fueled a movement to repeal Section 230 that could change the internet forever.

Matt Taibbi, who writes Substack’s Friday TK News newsletter posted a tweet thread He captioned “The Twitter Files,” which included screenshots of internal correspondence via the social platform’s content moderation system. In a note to his readers on Substack, Taibbi wrote that he had to “agree to certain terms” in order to release the files, although he didn’t reveal what those terms were.

When Taibbi reached him by phone, he declined to comment to Insider.

Much of Taibbi’s thread focused on Twitter’s handling of the October 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop, which the Post reported was left at a repair shop in Delaware. Early reports of the laptop drew skepticism from social media platforms — which faced criticism for moderating content after the controversy over then-candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016 — and warnings from law enforcement about disinformation campaigns that distributed via social apps.

Elon Musk and Twitter officials did not immediately respond to insiders’ requests for comment.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself confirmed in an August interview with Joe Rogan that his platforms were suppressing coverage of Hunter Biden’s laptop ahead of the 2020 election, saying it “fits the pattern” of the misinformation thrown at Facebook by the FBI had been pointed out. Although the laptop and some of its contents have since been authenticated as belonging to Biden, some reports of its contents have not been confirmed.

The documents released by Taibbi focused on internal discussions among Twitter employees about the laptop story and the ultimate decision to slow its reach across the platform and flag it with the platform’s “hacked materials” policy. At the time, the accuracy of the reporting was questioned and it was unclear whether the material reported to be on the laptop had been obtained legally, although critics were quick to question why Twitter decided to remove the material to throttle.

“I say that as a total Biden partisan and confident that he did nothing wrong,” he said. Taibi reported Rep. Ro Khanna wrote in an email to Twitter’s then chief legal officer, Vijaya Gadde. “But the story is now more about censorship than relatively benign emails, and it’s become a bigger deal than it would have been. It is also now leading to serious efforts to trim Section 230 – many of which would have been a mistake.”

Section 230 is a clause in the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that its proponents have called “the most important piece of legislation protecting internet speech”. The 26-word phrase “that created the internet” limits legal liability for technology platforms hosting user-generated content — in other words, a social media platform like Twitter cannot be held legally responsible for illegal content hosted by their be posted to users.

The section states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as a publisher or speaker of information provided by another information content provider.” Tech companies see a potential reversal as a threat to free speech that would force small web hosts to shut down their sites or risk legal liability for their users’ posts.

Khanna officials did not answer questions about the congressman’s current position on whether or not to repeal Section 230.

“I believe our Constitution and First Amendment are sacred,” California Rep. Khanna said in a statement emailed to Insiders. “As a congressman representing Silicon Valley, I felt Twitter’s actions violated the principles of the First Amendment, so I voiced those concerns. Our democracy can only thrive when we are open to a marketplace of ideas and engage with people we disagree with.”

Khanna wasn’t alone in criticizing Twitter’s move — which the site’s former trust and security chief has since called a mistake. Taibi reported 9 Republicans and 3 Democrats polled by a research firm in 2020 also disapproved of the decision — and bipartisan calls for Section 230 reform or reversal have increased since Hunter Biden’s laptop story.

“I am more determined than ever to strip Big Tech (Twitter) of the protections of Section 230 that protects them from lawsuits,” said Sen. Lindsay Graham tweeted in January 2021, just months after the Hunter Biden story surfaced and shortly after he introduced legislation repealing Section 230, giving them those protections.”

Donald Trump made Section 230 a major topic of his presidency, blaming Twitter for what he called “selective censorship” after the platform added postal vote warnings to several of his tweets. In the final weeks of his presidency, Trump vetoed a $740 billion defense bill, in part because it failed to repeal Section 230.

Republican criticism of Section 230 often focuses on claims by tech platforms censoring conservative viewpoints, while Democratic critics say the law allows social enterprises to stop doing anything about hate speech and disinformation.

“I am calling on Congress to remove the special immunity for social media companies and impose much stricter transparency requirements on all of them,” Al Jazeera reported, Biden said earlier this year, calling for Section 230 to be repealed.

Should Section 230 be repealed, advocates of free speech fear the digital landscape would be radically altered – by forcing website hosts to be held liable for the content posted on their websites, moderators would likely eliminate potential legal risks by drastically limit what they allow users to post or by shutting them down completely.

“Repealing Section 230 is a drastic step that would turn the Internet on its head and punish high-performing companies and Internet users for the behavior of an anti-social minority,” says an essay by Will Duffield, a policy analyst for the think tank Cato Institute. “Increasing legal liability on platforms will not make them more thoughtful or reasonable. It will cause some to shut down and others to shut out all but the most innocent feelings.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *