AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
New Twitter owner Elon Musk set the internet ablaze Friday afternoon by suddenly announcing that, after reviewing the company’s internal documents, the public would soon learn “what really happened with the Hunter Biden story suppression by Twitter.” A few hours later, journalist Matt Taibbi (to whom Musk had presumably given the documents) released a roughly 40-tweet thread in what Musk hinted was just the first installation of “The Twitter Files.”
In the end, the series of screenshots and revelations that Taibbi published wasn’t the “smoking gun” that many conservatives had hoped would take down Big Tech, the Democratic Party, and the mainstream media in one fell swoop. But the Twitter thread nonetheless confirmed long-held suspicions about collusion between Big Tech and elected Democrats, and it proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Twitter “moderators” indeed suppressed the Hunter Biden laptop story two years ago without any reason to believe that the story was false or “Russian disinformation.” Perhaps more importantly, Musk’s courageous effort to expose censorship and election meddling has now thrust the issue back to the forefront of the national conversation, paving the way for conservatives in both the media and Congress to continue their struggle against the enemies of free speech.
Taibbi’s Twitter thread began by recounting how Twitter’s “moderation” tools, originally designed to keep content like direct threats of violence and child pornography off the site, eventually evolved into a way for Democrats to outsource censorship to Twitter’s left-wing staff. “More to review from the Biden team,” read one screenshot from October 2020, followed by a series of links that led to posts showing images from the now-infamous Hunter Biden laptop. “Handled,” came the reply a few hours later, presumably indicating that the Biden team’s request to remove the posts had been granted.
As Taibbi recounts, the suppression of the New York Post bombshell story that first broke news of the laptop was only the culmination of a years-long censorship campaign by Twitter staff. When the story was released just a few weeks before the election, internal emails show that it sent Twitter staff into a frenzy, grasping for any justification to block distribution of the article or even mention of the story. This effort resulted in the suspension of the New York Post’s entire account, as well as the account of White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany and many other high-profile conservatives.
Initially, the excuse for blocking discussion of the story on Twitter was that the laptop contained “hacked materials.” The only problem, as internal company emails show, is that there was absolutely no evidence that any of the laptop’s contents were hacked. “They just freelanced it,” one employee told Taibbi. “Hacking was the excuse, but within a few hours, pretty much everyone realized that wasn’t going to hold. But no one had the guts to reverse it.”
Communications between top figures at Twitter and Democratic lawmakers in Congress soon after Twitter censored the story confirm what conservatives have long suspected – Democrats and Twitter employees knew that there was no legitimate justification to suppress the story, but Twitter plowed ahead anyway. One unexpected hero of the saga is progressive Congressman Ro Khanna of California, who wrote to Twitter General Counsel Vijaya Gadde that Twitter’s suppression of the story “seems a violation of the 1st Amendment principles… in the heat of a Presidential campaign, restricting dissemination of newspaper articles (even if NY Post is far right) seems like it will invite more backlash than it will do good.” Other Democrats warned that a “bloodbath” awaited Twitter and other Big Tech executives in hearings on Capitol Hill.
Ultimately however, Khanna kept his reservations between himself and Gadde, while other Democrats and the mainstream media continued to lend credence to the narrative that the laptop was “hacked materials” or “Russian disinformation.” The story was effectively scrubbed from the airwaves until after the election, when Twitter and multiple media outlets who attempted to discredit the story begrudgingly issued mea culpas.
An important detail missing – at least from this first chapter of “The Twitter Files” – is a direct link between Twitter employees and government actors in agencies like the FBI or the White House. We know from this tranche of screenshots that members of Biden’s campaign team requested that Twitter remove specific posts and high-profile accounts talking about the story. New York Post columnist Miranda Devine has also claimed that she has seen a sworn affidavit from the Twitter executive ultimately responsible for censoring the story that shows he had met with the FBI and other intelligence officials who had warned him “specifically of what they called a hack and leak operation, a dump of Russian disinformation” involving Hunter Biden, although that document has not been released publicly. What isn’t 100 percent clear yet is if federal bureaucrats specifically requested back in 2020 that Twitter censor the story, or if Biden White House officials – many of whom worked with Twitter to suppress the laptop story while they were on the Biden campaign – have continued to work with Twitter in their official capacity as public servants to censor information.
Those details may be well on the way, and Musk has already promised “Episode 2” of The Twitter Files in the coming days. But nonetheless, Taibbi’s reporting delivered an important bath of sunlight in confirming collusion between the Biden campaign and Twitter employees. For perhaps the first time, the public got a glimpse into the censorship machine inside a Big Tech company and was able to see the direct links between Big Tech executives and Democrat politicians.
It is also important to keep in mind that the “laptop from hell” is just one small part of a much larger story that is not confined to just Twitter. Exposing how censorship works at Twitter may be the key to revealing similar operations at Facebook, Google, and other Big Tech companies. With a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives set to take power in January, there is now clear momentum and public support for inquiries into potential First Amendment violations at Big Tech companies, as well as congressional legislation to protect online speech from political censorship. Amid other revelations about censorship campaigns taking place within the career federal bureaucracy, several congressional Republicans are already agitating for investigations.
In the years ahead, Americans may look back on this moment as the beginning of the end of Big Tech’s covert censorship regime. “The idea here is to come clean on everything that has happened in the past in order to build public trust for the future,” Musk said during a Twitter Spaces discussion on Friday shortly after Taibbi finished his reporting. So far, so good.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_.
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