The Twitter Files, whose disclosures are part of Elon Musk’s promise to focus on the company’s transparency, are explained below.
Documents made public by Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter and a tech millionaire, indicate the social media platform’s connection to a system of public-private control.
Content on a variety of topics, such as irregularities in the 2020 elections, problems with mail-in voting, and other facets of the COVID-19 epidemic, was either hidden or erased by Twitter. According to the records, the corporation was forced by the government to remove such content and the people who distribute it from the platform, despite the fact that most of the time it complied willingly.
In October, Musk gained control of Twitter and privatised it. After that, he let go of the majority of high management and about half of the workers, promising to change Twitter’s course. The “#TwitterFiles” disclosures are a part of his pledge to focus on the company’s transparency.
He occasionally stipulated that the resulting stories would be initially published on the platform itself, but he nonetheless let a number of independent journalists to submit search queries that were subsequently used by Twitter workers to look through the organization’s internal papers.
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Matt Taibbi, a former contributing editor for Rolling Stone, and Bari Weiss, a former editor at both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, have been the two journalists principally in charge of the disclosures. Both are liberals who have expressed disillusionment with the more extreme currents of progressivism and neoliberalism.
Independent reporters Lee Fang and David Zweig, a former New York Times reporter named Alex Berenson, and author and environmentalist Michael Shellenberger were also involved in the leaks.
Of the records the journalists examined, just a small portion has been made public. Apart from a few high-level executives, the names of the concerned employees have also been changed.
According to the records, the FBI and other state, local, and federal agencies have been closely monitoring Americans’ political speech and attempting to have legitimate speech online blocked or removed. Many normally liberal and conservative critics have found that to be against the First Amendment.
One of the main sites for political speech, Twitter, has been heavily censored. Since Twitter provides an effective means for direct and public engagement between everyone on the platform, from the most notable to the least, a large chunk of the nation’s political debate has recently broken on the social media site.
There were some censorship demands that Twitter refused, but there was no indication that it did so out of moral obligation. Instead, CEOs occasionally struggled to establish a policy they could use to support their actions. The records reveal that former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was under pressure from his subordinates to change the policy to permit more extensive censorship.
“The hypothesis underlying much of what we’ve implemented is that if exposure, e.g., misinformation directly causes harm, we should use remediations that reduce exposure, and limiting the spread/virality of content is a good way to do that (by just reducing prevalence overall),” said Yoel Roth, then Twitter’s head of Trust and Safety, which governs content policy, in a 2021 internal message published by Weiss.
“We got Jack on board with implementing this for civic integrity in the near term, but we’re going to need to make a more robust case to get this into our repertoire of policy remediations—especially for other policy domains.”
It was up to the firm to determine what to do with the numerous censorship requests Twitter got from the FBI, which were worded as merely bringing information to its attention. The documents reveal that despite their internal struggles to explain doing so, Twitter officials plainly felt obligated to comply with these requests.
Various sorts of governmental pressure were used. If Twitter didn’t comply with the FBI’s inquiries, the agency demanded an explanation from the company. Twitter executives would be questioned if their company’s stance on a subject deviated from that expected by the government, and they would be made aware that the bureau and even the larger intelligence community weren’t happy. The executives would then shift into triage mode and rush to salvage the relationship, which it apparently considered essential.
Requests for censorship overwhelmingly favoured the political right. Some scholars claimed that the right was more actively involved in disseminating false information, but the documents show that censorship was more of a pro- and anti-establishment issue than a right-left one. If they deviated too much from the official government narrative, even some left-leaning sources were attacked.
Furthermore, the right didn’t seem all that interested in initially calling for censorship. Despite being informed that there were several, Taibbi was unable to locate any censorship requests from the Trump campaign, the Trump administration, or even any Republican.
On the other hand, there didn’t seem to be much interest in debunking false information that came from the establishment itself.
Hunter Biden’s Laptop
The Twitter announcement went into great detail about Twitter’s repression of the 2020 New York Post exposé on Hunter Biden, the son of then-candidate Joe Biden. The head of Trust and Safety at Twitter, Roth, was reportedly frequently asked to meetings with the FBI and other intelligence organisations to obtain briefings on the online actions of foreign regimes. Roth had been trained to anticipate a Russian “hack-and-leak” operation in the months leading up to the 2020 election, likely in October and implicating Hunter Biden.
According to the FBI, there was some proof of a Russian influence effort in connection with Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine. However, the bureau was also aware that Hunter Biden had handed a copy of his laptop, which included a wealth of damaging information, to Rudy Giuliani, who was then serving as Trump’s legal counsel, and that it had been left in a New York repair shop. When the repairman delivered Giuliani the copy in August 2020, the FBI had Giuliani under surveillance when they picked up the laptop from the repair shop in December 2019. The information on the laptop was neither hacked nor the product of a Russian conspiracy, as the FBI was aware.
According to testimony given in November 2022 by Elvis Chan, head of the cyber branch at the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office, which was in charge of interacting with Twitter and other tech companies with headquarters under its purview, the FBI was in fact unaware of any intelligence pointing to a “hack-and-leak” operation before the 2020 election.
According to internal discussions, Twitter itself discovered very little Russian involvement prior to the 2020 election, according to Shellenberger.
Federal ‘Belly button’ of Investigation
According to Taibbi, the FBI was used as a conduit by other government agencies to send information to Twitter and request favours.
In one conversation, FBI cyber chief Chan said that while the bureau would direct USIC contacts to Twitter, DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency would handle other election-related communications (CISA).
“We can give you everything we’re seeing from the FBI and USIC agencies,” Chan said. “CISA will know what’s going on in each state.”
At least 15 former FBI agents have worked for Twitter since 2017, further tying the organisation to the service. There was an internal discussion group at Twitter for former agents because the practise is so widespread.
In a statement in response to the Twitter file revelations, the FBI called the reporting “misinformation” that was being circulated by “conspiracy theorists and others” with the express goal of trying to damage the agency’s reputation.
Department of Homeland Censorship
Speech policing has been incorporated into the DHS’s mission to safeguard vital infrastructure. Elections were classified as vital infrastructure by President Barack Obama in January 2017, just before he left the White House. The CISA of the DHS was then given the responsibility of safeguarding elections not only against hackers but also from false and misleading information.