Matt Taibbi, contributing editor at Rolling Stone, released what Elon Musk has referred to as “The Twitter Files,” Friday afternoon detailing how the social media platform suppressed a New York Post story regarding a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden.
The NYP story revealed an email — which was verified soon after by the Daily Caller News Foundation — that connected President Joe Biden with an executive at the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, with the executive thanking the president’s son for “giving me an opportunity to meet your father.” Taibbi alleged that former head of legal, policy and trust Viyaja Gadde played a “key role,” in the decision to suppress the story, which was made without the knowledge of then-CEO Jack Dorsey, but without any government involvement.
Taibbi tweeted an email indicating that Twitter’s trust and safety team initially explained to other employees that it made the decision to suppress the story — the company even went so far as to prevent it from being sent in private messages — because it violated Twitter’s policy for sharing “hacked materials.” Typically, such a ruling would require an official statement from law enforceme
nt identifying the material as hacked, something that Twitter never received, according to Taibbi, citing several anonymous sources.
Justifying the removal on theses grounds prompted confusion within Twitter, Communications official Trenton Kennedy wrote a message to Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth, saying that he was “struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe,” and noting that Twitter would face “hard questions on this” if they failed to provide a reasonable explanation, according to Taibbi. Roth reiterated that “the policy basis is hacked materials,” and while he stressed that the situation was developing, “[g]iven the SEVERE risks here and the lessons of 2016, we’re erring on the side of including a warning and preventing this content from being amplified,” Taibbi reported.
Then-Vice President of Global Communications, Brandon Borrman, asked if Twitter could “truthfully claim” that the NYP story fell under the hacked materials policy, according to Taibbi. This prompted a response from Deputy General Counsel James Baker, who argued that it was “reasonable to assume” that the materials “may have been” hacked, and that “caution is warranted,” Taibbi tweeted.
Prior to his work at Twitter, Baker was an FBI lawyer who approved the surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, among other decisions made during the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign. A report by the Justice Department’s inspector general found at least 17 “significant” errors in the decision to surveil Page, which relied on the Steele dossier.
While members of both parties, including the Trump White House, successfully petitioned Twitter to remove content, the system favored Democrats because “Twitter was and is overwhelmingly staffed by people of one political orientation,” according to Taibbi. The posts that Biden staff and the DNC requested to be removed were primarily sexually explicit photographs of Hunter Biden.
Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California reached out to Gadde personally after the story was suppressed, concerned that Twitter’s actions were a “violation of the 1st Amendment [sic] principles,” according to Taibbi. Carl Szacbo, general counsel at trade association NetChoice that advocates for limited government intervention online, sent a letter to Twitter’s head of Public Policy, Lauren Culberston, noting that while members from both parties were frustrated with Twitter’s response to the situation, the three Democratic lawmakers they had polled were in agreement that social media companies needed to moderate more, arguing that “the First Amendment isn’t absolute.”
“An amazing subplot of the Twitter/Hunter Biden laptop affair was how much was done without the knowledge of CEO Jack Dorsey, ” and how long it took to be resolved even after Dorsey stepped in, Taibbi tweeted.
Sharing the NYP story was banned on Twitter from Oct. 14-16, 2020, a move that Roth described as a mistake in an interview on Nov. 30, 2022. Dozens of former intelligence officials criticized the NYP story in October 2020 as likely linked to Russian disinformation in an open letter, according to Politico; however, the veracity of the laptop’s contents has been confirmed by several major news organizations since the DCNF.
Facebook also prevented users from sharing the story, which alleged that the laptop’s hard drive contained video of Hunter Biden using drugs while engaging in sexual activities.
Months before the NYP story, tapes leaked by Andriy Derkach, a member of Ukraine’s Parliament with connections to Russia’s intelligence, alleged that Joe Biden had pressured the former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to fire a prosecutor that was investigating Burisma, where his son was a member of the board, when he was the Vice President.
Twitter did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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