Pop some popcorn, open your laptop, and log onto Twitter. Under Elon Musk’s ownership, Twitter is one of the most interesting online places to be.
Once the equivalent of an EPA superfund site for toxic rhetoric, Twitter is now center stage in a national debate about censorship, transparency, and government and institutional meddling into content moderation on social media platforms.
Through the “Twitter Files,” Musk is spearheading an online speech renaissance. He’s shining a light on Twitter’s prior moderation policy and the outside actors who were influencing it. According to Musk, his goal for Twitter “is to come clean on everything that has happened in the past in order to build public trust for the future.”
Trust will bring more users, which will attract advertisers and their money. Musk didn’t get to be the richest man in the world without being an incredibly savvy investor.
Journalist Matt Taibbi released part one of the “Twitter Files” in a lengthy thread of internal emails. The thread revealed the extraordinary lengths to which Twitter’s “Trust and Safety” team went to squash the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story in October 2020, just ahead of the presidential election.
Key revelations to this point: The Democratic National Committee pressured Twitter to censor the Hunter Biden story and specific conservatives like actor James Woods. Wrap your mind around the fact that the Democrats could contact Twitter and have an individual censored. Democrat Congressman Ro Khanna of California bucked his party and was deeply troubled by the censorship. Some Twitter employees expressed First Amendment concerns.
“Twitter was acting like an arm of the Democratic National Committee; it was absurd,” Musk said. No other news outlets came to the Post’s defense. In fact, many agreed with Twitter’s decision.
Most egregious by far was the behavior of elites in the U.S. intelligence community. Fifty-one people in the highest levels of our government intelligence apparatus, including James Clapper, Mike Hayden, Leon Panetta, and John Brennan, suggested the Hunter Biden laptop story was “Russian disinformation.”
In an open letter published in Politico, they wrote, “this is Russia trying to influence how Americans vote in this election. … Such an operation would be consistent with some of the key methods Russia has used in its now multi-year operation to interfere in our democracy.”
Without any evidence, they publicly misled the American electorate. Their expertise provided cover for Twitter’s censorship and the mainstream media’s defense of it. A recent Wall Street
Journal house editorial put their influence into perspective: “They have authority by dint of access to information that isn’t confirmable by the press, which takes their spin as gospel.”
Another name that came up is former FBI general counsel James Baker, the Hillary Clinton campaign attorneys’ point man at the FBI regarding the 2016 Russian collusion hoax. After leaving the FBI, Baker went to Twitter, where he became involved in the second Russian disinformation scandal. This prompted legal scholar Jonathan Turley to describe Baker as “the Kevin Bacon of the Russian collusion scandals.”
All of them — Twitter, the intelligence community, James Baker, the DNC, and the media — were wrong. Further, they were wrong at a crucial time, just days before a pivotal election.
The Hunter Biden laptop story is dominating the online narrative right now, but there are other censorship cases. Criticism of COVID vaccine efficacy got Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alex Berenson permanently banned from Twitter. He successfully sued the platform, which was forced to reinstate him. Only recently did Twitter lift its ban on challenges to government COVID claims.
President Biden’s national climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, said last summer she wants social media companies to censor criticism of renewable energy. During my own testimony, I encountered congressional Democrats who want to regulate public relations firms that work with fossil fuel companies.
Certainly, blatant censorship is the most troubling. Also problematic is what many Twitter users, including me, suspect about content being suppressed, warning labels slapped on tweets, or our reach being throttled. The only way to find out is through the release of additional Twitter Files, which Musk has promised. Stay tuned for the most interesting show online.
Musk is right about the need for Twitter “coming clean” and regaining public trust. If he continues to follow through on his transparency pledge, it’s possible for Twitter to go from social media dumpster fire to trusted source. That could be profitable for him and, more importantly, a victory for free speech.