Musk, the billionaire owner of Twitter, gave journalist Matt Taibbi access to the explosive documents, which he first began to publish excerpts of on the social media site on Friday evening.
The first installment of what Musk has dubbed the ‘Twitter Files’ included internal Twitter emails appearing to show staffers censoring tweets at the behest of the Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign.
They also showed Twitter executives in foot-dragging indecision as public outcry grew over the suppression of reporting on Hunter’s foreign business dealings, with executives searching for justification for the move in company policy.
In one striking exchange, Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, emailed former Twitter Head of Legal, Policy and Trust Vijaya Gadde in alarm at the suppression of the story, saying ‘this seems a violation of the 1st Amendment principles.’
But another email from a DC lobbying firm contained a stark warning: some Democrats on Capitol Hill wanted to see more crackdowns like the one on the Hunter Biden story – even after being reminded of Americans’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression.
Elon Musk has vowed to release additional internal documents later today illuminating Twitter’s suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop scandal
Rep. Ro Khanna (left), a California Democrat, emailed former Twitter Head of Legal, Policy and Trust Vijaya Gadde (right) in alarm at the suppression of the Hunter Biden story, saying ‘this seems a violation of the 1st Amendment principles’
The first installment of what Musk has dubbed the ‘Twitter Files’ included internal Twitter emails appearing to show staffers censoring tweets at the behest of the Biden campaign
Weeks ahead of the election in October 2020, Twitter prevented sharing of a story about Hunter’s involvement with a Chinese oil giant – and his then-presidential candidate father Joe Biden’s potential slice of a multi-million-dollar deal with the foreign firm.
Emails between Twitter staffers show them censoring people sharing the story, including the White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, citing their ‘hacked materials policy’.
Twitter also allegedly used blocks in an attempt to halt the spread of the story, published weeks before the 2020 election, including tactics usually reserved for preventing the sharing of child porn.
Amid the scramble to limit sharing of the New York Post’s Hunter story, Taibbi claimed emails showed Dorsey intervening multiple times to question the censorship.
The journalist also added that he had not seen any evidence that the federal government had a role in suppressing the story.
However, in a recent interview with Joe Rogan, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg admitted that his company received a briefing from the FBI ahead of the 2020 election warning of disinformation campaigns.
The briefing led to Facebook being on high alert for Russian propaganda – which Hunter’s laptop was initially tarred as by top former intelligence officials, until DailyMail.com proved it was real.
Hunter’s laptop was initially tarred as Russian propaganda by top former intelligence officials, until DailyMail.com proved it was real
Emails showed recommendations from the DNC to review certain tweets on the social media giant
There were requests from the Biden and Trump team, but the vast majority were shown to be from Democrats
Public policy executive Caroline Strom asked staff what was the cause for the story being blocked
Elaine from the comms global escalations team replied, claiming the story breached Twitter’s hacked materials policy
Former Trust and safety chief Yoel Roth was roped into the email chain, as well as legal chief Gadde
Communications official Trenton Kennedy writes: ‘I’m struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe’
White House spokeswoman Kaleigh McEnany was locked out of her account for tweeting about the story
Taibbi, a popular podcaster and former Rolling Stone politics correspondent, shared one October 14 2020 email from Donald Trump’s campaign team to Twitter staff complaining that McEnany had been locked out of her account ‘for simply talking about’ the New York Post story.
Twitter’s public policy executive Caroline Strom forwarded the email to an ‘ops analyst’ at the social media company, who wrote back that: ‘the user was bounced by Site Integrity for violating our Hacked Materials policy.’
At that time, the Biden campaign had not disputed the veracity of the material from Hunter’s abandoned laptop, which DailyMail.com later authenticated using top cyber forensics experts.
Taibbi wrote then-CEO Jack Dorsey was unaware of the censorship, but alleged that an executive, ‘former head of legal, policy and trust’ Vijaya Gadde, played a ‘key role’.
‘They just freelanced it,’ one former employee told the podcaster. ‘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.’
‘Everyone knew this was f***ed,’ an anonymous ex staffer reportedly told Taibbi.
Emails showed internal arguments breaking out among senior Twitter staff over the suppression of the Post’s story – which included lurid details of Hunter’s escapades with prostitutes and hard drugs, as well as worrying evidence of potential corruption involving Ukrainian gas company Burisma and his links to Chinese firms.
Taibbi wrote then-CEO Jack Dorsey was unaware of the censorship, but alleged that an executive, ‘former head of legal, policy and trust’ Vijaya Gadde (pictured glaring at Musk when he took over), played a ‘key role’
Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is pictured last year in Miami. He was apparently kept out of discussions over the Hunter Biden laptop story
One staffer, Trenton Kennedy, allegedly wrote: ‘I’m struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe.’
‘I think the best explainability argument for this externally would be that we’re waiting to understand if this story is the result of hacked materials. We’ll face hard questions on this if we don’t have some kind of solid reasoning for marking the link unsafe.’
Another, Katie Rosborough, shot back with a link to a Fox News article about Hunter’s laptop, asking: ‘will we also mark similar stories as unsafe?’
The internal discussions showed that despite admitting ‘the facts remain unclear’, Twitter decided on ‘preventing this content from being amplified.’
One staffer, Ian Plunkett, wrote that the site should be ‘cautiously interpreting this through the lens of our hacked materials policy and allowing the link with a warning and a significant reduction of spread.’
Even senior executives were questioning the veracity of the claims the laptop material was hacked.
Former VP of global communications Brandon Borrman, wrote: ‘To Ian’s point, can we truthfully claim that this is part of the policy? i.e. As part of our approach to addressing potentially hacked materials, we are limiting visibility of related stories on Twitter while our investigation is ongoing.’
The censorship even caused one Democrat Congressman Ro Khanna to write to Gadde that it was ‘generating huge backlash on hill re speech’ – referring to concerns in Washington DC over limitations on free speech being imposed by Twitter.
‘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,’ Khanna wrote.
Research firm NetChoice wrote to Twitter’s head of Public Policy Lauren Culbertson the next day on October 15 2022, warning that ‘both Democrats and the Republicans were angry’ about the suppression, according to the emails obtained by Taibbi.
NetChoice general counsel Carl Szabo told Culbertson one congressional staffer even described the debacle as ‘tech’s Access Hollywood moment’ – referring to a leaked tape of Donald Trump saying he grabbed married women ‘by the p***y.
Among the most shocking emails is an exchange between two staffers, showing the Biden campaign were making requests for Tweets to be taken down, and Twitter was duly complying.
‘More to review from the Biden team,’ one staffer wrote on October 24, days ahead of the presidential election, listing five tweets. ‘Thanks all.’
‘Handled these,’ another replied three hours later.
Taibbi wrote that the Trump campaign had takedown requests granted too, but reported that staffers were taking far more from Biden’s team.
‘By 2020, requests from connected actors to delete tweets were routine,’ he wrote. ‘Celebrities and unknowns alike could be removed or reviewed at the behest of a political party.
‘Both parties had access to these tools. For instance, in 2020, requests from both the Trump White House and the Biden campaign were received and honored.
‘However: this system wasn’t balanced. It was based on contacts. Because Twitter was and is overwhelmingly staffed by people of one political orientation, there were more channels, more ways to complain, open to the left (well, Democrats) than the right.’
He shared statistics from OpenSecrets, showing political donations by Twitter staff were between 96% and 99% to Democrats, with a total $909,431 given to Democrats in the 2020 election cycle and just $14,137 to Republicans by individuals linked to the company.
In the email to Culbertson, Szabo wrote that he had polled several lawmakers and their staff on the Hill, and that some Democrat lawmakers were less concerned about the First Amendment.
‘The Democrats were in agreement: social media needs to moderate more because they’re corrupting democracy and making all ‘truth’ relative,’ Szabo wrote. ‘When pushed on how the government might insist on that, consistent with the First Amendment, they demurred: ‘the First Amendment isn’t absolute.’
According to the emails, Twitter was feeling the heat from both sides of the political aisle: Republicans livid over censorship, and Democrats complaining the site ‘doesn’t moderate enough harmful content so when it does… it becomes a story.’
Szabo wrote that Democrat lawmakers ‘complained that the companies are inept: They let conservatives muddy the water and make the Biden campaign look corrupt even though Biden is innocent.’
‘They linked this to Hillary Clinton’s email scandal: she did nothing wrong but because the press wouldn’t let the story go, it became a scandal far out of proportion,’ Szabo added in his email to the Twitter executive.
‘In their mind, social media is doing the same thing: it doesn’t moderate enough harmful content so when it does, like it did yesterday, it becomes a story. If the companies moderated more, conservatives wouldn’t even think to use social media for disinformation, misinformation, or otherwise.’
Musk’s choice to grant behind-the-scenes access to Taibbi may be interpreted as a sign of his unfavorable views of major media organizations.
The journalist has written books critical of cable news on both the right and left of the political spectrum, accusing both MSNBC and Fox of polarizing the country.
He has said he admires liberal firebrand Bernie Sanders, but also has enraged left wing activists by slamming cancel culture.
He also was critical of Twitter’s suppression of the Biden scandal from the beginning.
On October 24 2020, about a week after the story about Hunter’s abandoned laptop and its shocking contents broke, Taibbi wrote a post on his substack titled: ‘With the Hunter Biden expose, suppression is a bigger scandal than the actual story’.
The piece was sent by Dorsey to his head of legal Gadde, one of the Twitter internal emails shows.
In a tweet on Friday evening, Musk accused the Twitter staffers: ‘If this isn’t a violation of the Constitution’s First Amendment, what is?’
Taibbi wrote that according to his sources, censoring tweets because they shared ‘hacked materials’ usually required an official finding of a hack by law enforcement, but that policy was abandoned with Hunter’s laptop.
In an email the day after the story broke, one executive allegedly wrote to staff admitting that the New York Post and the Trump campaigns tweets had been censored, among others.
‘Twitter actioned Tweets yesterday relating to two NY Post articles that were tweeted out that allegedly included pictures and screenshots of emails from a laptop that allegedly belonged to Hunter Biden, Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son,’ the alleged internal Twitter email shared by Taibbi said.
‘Our teams made the determination that the materials fall under our Hacked Materials Policy, in addition to sharing personal information, so links were actioned. As you may know, this existing policy framework was launched in 2018 to mitigate real-time harm based on hack and leak scenarios coming out of the 2016 election.
‘I know there are questions that you probably have and are also probably getting a lot of incoming from stakeholders – governmental, academic, civil society, etc. The last 24 hours certainly has been a whirlwind with lots of curves and unknowns and we fully expect that the issues surrounding this matter will continue to swirl in the coming days so thank you to everyone for your patience.’