New Twitter chief and exploding-car entrepreneur Elon Musk has given a team access to the website’s data archives in order to examine its content moderation actions. The investigators include former New York Times editor Bari Weiss and podcaster-journalist Matt Taibbi, amongst others.
Their findings are being released under the hashtag #TwitterFiles, and they’re being hyped to reveal some conspiracy to suppress right-wing and fringe voices. But as always, the truth appears to be that the right is once again crying about the fact that hate speech and conspiracy theories will get you banned from social media – who’d have thought it?
Hunter Biden’s laptop, again
Taibbi’s first thread revolved around the removal of Donald Trump from the platform, and the controversy around Hunter Biden’s laptop. This story originally came from the New York Post and concerned now-US president Joe Biden’s son Hunter using his connection to his dad to get in with a Ukrainian natural gas company. Sordid, for sure, but hardly uncommon, or even condemned, in the world of politics. Taibbi claimed that:
Twitter took extraordinary steps to suppress the story, removing links and posting warnings that it may be “unsafe.” They even blocked its transmission via direct message, a tool hitherto reserved for extreme cases, e.g. child pornography.
Back in the real world, the #TwitterFiles appear to have exposed… Twitter employees scrambling to react appropriately to what seemed to be a Russian hacking operation, during an incredibly volatile political moment in the US.
In turn, many Twitter users chose to focus on the outrage that right-wingers couldn’t freely post illegally obtained photographs of politicians’ family members’ genitalia:
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tHe TwItTeR fILeS:
Day 1: Twitter just deleted pics of Hunter Biden's junk when asked. Zero pushback. Unbelievable.
Pre-Day 2: Via a journalistic technique known as 'asking', we shockingly discovered that a Twitter lawyer was reviewing The Twitter Files before we got them!!😡
— Noah Dahl (@cen271) December 10, 2022
THE TWITTER FILES is funny, the tone they're described in is like watergate or wikileaks but instead of war crimes it's about pics of Hunter Biden's penis and why Libs of TikTok couldn't post for 2 days.
— The Path of the Alpha–BenghaziExpert 5'4.5" (@BenghaziExpert) December 9, 2022
Republicans tried to destroy Hillary using her emails but it was a nothing burger
They then tried to destroy Biden using Hunter’s laptop but it was a nothing burger
Now they’re trying to destroy Dems using the Twitter files but it’s STILL a nothing burger
Nice try though, GOP
— Lindy Li (@lindyli) December 11, 2022
In turn, Weiss chose to dig into nefarious blacklisting and tweet suppression:
1. A new #TwitterFiles investigation reveals that teams of Twitter employees build blacklists, prevent disfavored tweets from trending, and actively limit the visibility of entire accounts or even trending topics—all in secret, without informing users.
— Bari Weiss (@bariweiss) December 9, 2022
The problem with this masterstroke of investigative journalism is, however, that Twitter was open about the fact that it suppressed tweets. In fact, it released a blog post detailing the subject in 2018. It stated, quite clearly:
We do rank tweets and search results. We do this because Twitter is most useful when it’s immediately relevant. These ranking models take many signals into consideration to best organize tweets for timely relevance. We must also address bad-faith actors who intend to manipulate or detract from healthy conversation.
Nevertheless, the #TwitterFiles breathlessly reported the scandal of the suppression of… coronavirus [Covid-19] misinformation, conspiracy theorist Dan Bongino, and noted racist Charlie Kirk. If this suppression happens to sound like ‘responsible content moderation’ to you, don’t worry – you’re not alone:
So today's Twitter Files scoop from the author of "San Fransicko" is that someone responsible for content moderation was moderating content associated with baseless conspiracy theories, and we're supposed to be very upset about it! pic.twitter.com/xvykMQRlqD
— steven ''italian elon musk'' monacelli (@stevanzetti) December 11, 2022
Shellenberger once again pulls out the galaxy-brained claim that Twitter's moderation practices violated "free speech"…somehow.
Yes, Trump alone, distinct from other political leaders, used Twitter to repeatedly deny the election results and then fomented a seditious riot. pic.twitter.com/d1FyjBpnDe
— Michael Paulauski (@mike10010100) December 11, 2022
I don’t have it in me to comment much on this Twitter Files farce – but it’s really striking how all these supposedly scandalous “revelations” have either been public knowledge – or make the old Twitter regime look eminently reasonable: People trying, in difficult circumstances. https://t.co/wqvTExiPL0
— Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history) December 10, 2022
Waiting for transparency
Finally, of course, we should remember that Musk’s newfound love of ‘transparency’ is deeply hypocritical:
Two days ago, Elon Musk said "Exactly" in response to a tweet praising the Twitter Files because "transparency is good for everyone long-term."
Today, Musk sent an email to all Twitter employees saying he would sue them if they released confidential information. pic.twitter.com/0dswC56kcJ
— James Surowiecki (@JamesSurowiecki) December 10, 2022
The next instalment of the #TwitterFiles will apparently focus on coronavirus and US chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci. Surely, it will be just as measured and responsible as the previous reporting under the hashtag. Maybe eventually we’ll get around to investigating why a set of hack journalists have been given access to unknown quantities of Twitter data? Don’t hold your breath, though.Support us and go ad-free
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