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Matt Taibbi's Twitter Files pull the curtain on moderation bias at social media platform [UPDATE]

Elon Musk's Twitter is pulling back the moderation kimono tonight, with the first set of Twitter Files being posted by Matt Taibbi to the social platform.


UPDATE (December 6, 2022 @ 3:15 p.m. PT): Following allegations that former Twitter Deputy General Counsel Jim Baker vetted the Twitter Files "without knowledge of new management" and supposedly disrupted their launch over the previous weekend, Baker has reportedly been fired. Taibbi has claimed that the follow-up on the Twitter Files will now be posted by journalist and Honestly podcast host Bari Weiss in the very near future. Stay tuned for further updates and details.

Matt Taibbi claims Jim Baker was fired from Twitter for disrupting the release of info from the Twitter Files and that Bari Weiss will now share the next installment of the files soon.
Matt Taibbi claims Jim Baker was fired from Twitter for disrupting the release of info from the Twitter Files and that Bari Weiss will now share the next installment of the files soon.
Source: Twitter

Original Story: Noted author and journalist Matt Taibbi has posted the first of a series of "Twitter Files" tweet threads that are pulling back the curtain on the social media company's moderation policies. Twitter Files, Part One focuses on how and why Twitter blocked the NY Post's Hunter Biden laptop story. 

Here's a transcription of the entire Twitter thread:


2. What you’re about to read is the first installment in a series, based upon thousands of internal documents obtained by sources at Twitter.

3. The “Twitter Files” tell an incredible story from inside one of the world’s largest and most influential social media platforms. It is a Frankensteinian tale of a human-built mechanism grown out the control of its designer.

4. Twitter in its conception was a brilliant tool for enabling instant mass communication, making a true real-time global conversation possible for the first time.

5. In an early conception, Twitter more than lived up to its mission statement, giving people “the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.”

6. As time progressed, however, the company was slowly forced to add those barriers. Some of the first tools for controlling speech were designed to combat the likes of spam and financial fraudsters.

7. Slowly, over time, Twitter staff and executives began to find more and more uses for these tools. Outsiders began petitioning the company to manipulate speech as well: first a little, then more often, then constantly.

8. By 2020, requests from connected actors to delete tweets were routine. One executive would write to another: “More to review from the Biden team.” The reply would come back: “Handled.”

A screenshot of internal emails between Twitter moderators about Biden team requests.
A screenshot of Twitter employees discussing moderation requests from the Biden team.
Source: Matt Taibbi

9. Celebrities and unknowns alike could be removed or reviewed at the behest of a political party:

Another screenshot of Twitter moderation team members discussing more moderation requests from the Biden team.
This screenshot shows a James Woods tweet that was highlighted for moderation by the DNC.
Source: Matt Taibbi

10. 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:

11. 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.

Screenshot of Twitter political donations for the last four years.
This screenshot highlights the overwhelming majority of Twitter campaign donations went to Democrats over the past four years.
Source: Matt Taibbi

12. The resulting slant in content moderation decisions is visible in the documents you’re about to read. However, it’s also the assessment of multiple current and former high-level executives.

Okay, there was more throat-clearing about the process, but screw it, let's jump forward

16. The Twitter Files, Part One: How and Why Twitter Blocked the Hunter Biden Laptop Story

17. On October 14, 2020, the New York Post published BIDEN SECRET EMAILS, an expose based on the contents of Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop:

18. 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.

19. White House spokeswoman Kaleigh McEnany was locked out of her account for tweeting about the story, prompting a furious letter from Trump campaign staffer Mike Hahn, who seethed: “At least pretend to care for the next 20 days.”

Screenshot of emails from the Trump administration regarding White House spokeswoman Kaleigh McEnany being locked out of her Twitter account.
Screenshot of emails from the Trump administration regarding White House spokeswoman Kaleigh McEnany being locked out of her Twitter account.
Source: Matt Taibbi

20.This led public policy executive Caroline Strom to send out a polite WTF query. Several employees noted that there was tension between the comms/policy teams, who had little/less control over moderation, and the safety/trust teams:

Screenshot of an email from Carol Strom asking other Twitter moderation team members to take a closer look.
Screenshot of an email from Twitter public policy exec Carol Strom asking other Twitter moderation team members to take a closer look.
Source: Matt Taibbi

21. Strom’s note returned the answer that the laptop story had been removed for violation of the company’s “hacked materials” policy:

Screenshot of a reply to Caroline Strom from the Twitter Escalations Team.
Screenshot of a reply to Caroline Strom from the Twitter Escalations Team.
Source: Matt Taibbi

22. Although several sources recalled hearing about a “general” warning from federal law enforcement that summer about possible foreign hacks, there’s no evidence - that I've seen - of any government involvement in the laptop story. In fact, that might have been the problem...

23. The decision was made at the highest levels of the company, but without the knowledge of CEO Jack Dorsey, with former head of legal, policy and trust Vijaya Gadde playing a key role.

24. “They just freelanced it,” is how one former employee characterized the decision. “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.”

25. You can see the confusion in the following lengthy exchange, which ends up including Gadde and former Trust and safety chief Yoel Roth. Comms official Trenton Kennedy writes, “I'm struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe”:

Screenshot of Twitter employees discussing further moderation of similar stories.
Screenshot of Twitter employees discussing further moderation of similar stories.
Source: Matt Taibbi

26. By this point “everyone knew this was fucked,” said one former employee, but the response was essentially to err on the side of… continuing to err.

Screenshot of a conversation between Twitter executives on the nature of the hacking label.
Screenshot of a conversation between Twitter execs Yoel Roth, Vijaya Gadde, and Ian Plunkett regarding the hacked materials policy being used to suppress the NY Post story on Hunter Biden.
Source: Matt Taibbi

27. Former VP of Global Comms Brandon Borrman asks, “Can we truthfully claim that this is part of the policy?”

Screenshot of Brandon Borrman expressing doubt about the hacked materials policy being used.
Twitter's Brandon Borrman expressed concerns about the hacked materials policy being used to suppress the NY Post.
Source: Matt Taibbi

28. To which former Deputy General Counsel Jim Baker again seems to advise staying the non-course, because “caution is warranted”:

Screenshot of Twitter Deputy General Counsel weighing in.
Twitter Deputy General Counsel made a case for using the hacked materials policy.
Source: Matt Taibbi

29. A fundamental problem with tech companies and content moderation: many people in charge of speech know/care little about speech, and have to be told the basics by outsiders. To wit:

30. In one humorous exchange on day 1, Democratic congressman Ro Khanna reaches out to Gadde to gently suggest she hop on the phone to talk about the “backlash re speech.” Khanna was the only Democratic official I could find in the files who expressed concern.

Screenshot of email from Democrat Ro Khanna expressing free speech concerns.
Taibbi says he was only able to find one email from a Democrat that expressed concerns about the suppression of the NY post article.
Source: Matt Taibbi

Gadde replies quickly, immediately diving into the weeds of Twitter policy, unaware Khanna is more worried about the Bill of Rights:

Screenshot of Gadde's quick reply to Khanna.
Gadde was quick to reply to Khanna's email.
Source: Matt Taibbi

32.Khanna tries to reroute the conversation to the First Amendment, mention of which is generally hard to find in the files:

Screenshot of email reply from Khanna to Gadde expressing concerns about violating the First Amendment.
Ro Khanna expressed concerns about the First Amendment implications of suppressing the NY Post article.
Source: Matt Taibbi

33.Within a day, head of Public Policy Lauren Culbertson receives a ghastly letter/report from Carl Szabo of the research firm NetChoice, which had already polled 12 members of congress – 9 Rs and 3 Democrats, from “the House Judiciary Committee to Rep. Judy Chu’s office.”

Screenshot of an email from NetChoice's Carl Czabo
Screenshot of an email from NetChoice's Carl Czabo
Source: Matt Taibbi

34. NetChoice lets Twitter know a “blood bath” awaits in upcoming Hill hearings, with members saying it's a "tipping point," complaining tech has “grown so big that they can’t even regulate themselves, so government may need to intervene.”

Screenshot of a communication from NetChoice.
Screenshot of more communications between Twitter and NetChoice indicating that republicans felt the NY Post article was a "tipping point."
Source: Matt Taibbi

35. Szabo reports to Twitter that some Hill figures are characterizing the laptop story as “tech’s Access Hollywood moment”:

Screenshot of NetChoice communication with Twitter calling the NY Post treatment
Screenshot of NetChoice communication with Twitter calling the NY Post treatment "tech's Access Hollywood moment"
Source: Matt Taibbi

36. Twitter files continued:
Szabo’s letter contains chilling passages relaying Democratic lawmakers’ attitudes. They want “more” moderation, and as for the Bill of Rights, it's "not absolute"

Screenshot of communications from NetChoice's Czabo claim that some democrats felt that the First Amendment is not absolute.
Communication from NetChoice's Czabo claiming that some democrats felt that the First Amendment is not absolute.
Source: Matt Taibbi

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 for the situation to get "unfucked" (as one ex-employee put it) even after Dorsey jumped in.

While reviewing Gadde's emails, I saw a familiar name - my own. Dorsey sent her a copy of my Substack article blasting the incident

Screenshot of an email forwarded by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to Vijaya Gadde regarding the blowback
It appears that Jack Dorsey was left in the dark regarding the suppression of the NY Post article on Hunter Biden.
Source: Matt Taibbi

There are multiple instances in the files of Dorsey intervening to question suspensions and other moderation actions, for accounts across the political spectrum

The problem with the "hacked materials" ruling, several sources said, was that this normally required an official/law enforcement finding of a hack. But such a finding never appears throughout what one executive describes as a "whirlwind" 24-hour, company-wide mess.

Screenshot of a Twitter executive's email regarding the hacked materials rule being used on the NY Post article.
Twitter executive email that called the days around the suppression of the NY Post article as a whirlwind.
Source: Matt Taibbi

It's been a whirlwind 96 hours for me, too. There is much more to come, including answers to questions about issues like shadow-banning, boosting, follower counts, the fate of various individual accounts, and more. These issues are not limited to the political right.

Good night, everyone. Thanks to all those who picked up the phone in the last few days.

It appears that Taibbi is done tweeting for now, but hopefully this article will serve as an easier way to consume the information as opposed to his massive tweet thread. Keep it locked on Shacknews for all the latest news coming from Elon Musk's Twitter.

Blake has been writing and making videos about pop-culture and games for over 10 years now. Although he'd probably prefer you thought of him as a musician and listened to his band, If you see him on the street, buy him a taco or something. Follow him on twitter @ProfRobot

From The Chatty
    • reply
      December 2, 2022 6:03 PM

      fare warning, at least one of the tweets that the 'biden' team was shameless trying to suppress was...hunter's dick. so yes, twitter shamelessly was told to remove a dick pick. what a shocker.

    • reply
      December 2, 2022 6:34 PM

      Elon and his conservative VC friends are just not very smart

    • reply
      December 2, 2022 7:48 PM

      That was a big nothing burger

      • reply
        December 4, 2022 2:30 PM

        they were able to *GASP* report posts for TOS violations, just like the REPORT button!

    • reply
      December 2, 2022 9:14 PM

      I'm really confused by why what the fuck happened to Matt Taibbi over the last few years.

      • reply
        December 2, 2022 10:27 PM

        The only thing that makes sense to me is he can smell the grift. He's writing another book right now so he's not on Useful Idiots right now.

      • reply
        December 3, 2022 8:49 AM

        Yeah, similar trajectory as Glenn Greenwald. Part of me thinks they just like being "outsiders" or something along those lines.

      • reply
        December 3, 2022 9:00 AM

        Same thing that happened to Lara Logan

        • reply
          December 3, 2022 10:01 AM

          Gang raped in Egypt? Those are some crazy odds.

          • reply
            December 3, 2022 10:25 AM

            Politically, what the fuck dude?

            • reply
              December 3, 2022 11:04 AM

              You don't think that an insanely traumatic event like that could have an impact on the mental state of someone?

        • reply
          December 3, 2022 10:24 AM

          Wait, the War Nerd's Mark Ames is tight with Taibbi? Like, they were boys back in the day? Somehow I never made that connection (I've never read any of Taibbi's books). Now I get why Ames was so baffling wrong about the Ukraine invasion.

      • reply
        December 4, 2022 2:31 PM

        fired from rolling stone, moved to moscow, stayed there for 7 years publishing an american expat magazine.

        as one does.

      • reply
        December 5, 2022 1:19 PM

        He spent years in Russia writing for and thinks everything in America is as corrupt as the late 90s / early 00s during the mafia reconstruction of ussr.

        He’s becoming what he used to write about 20 years ago.

        And bragged about terrorizing his Russian female staff with sexual assault in a book.

    • reply
      December 2, 2022 9:58 PM

      Reads like shilling for Elon. Also Twitter is an extremely painful way to read a long article.

    • reply
      December 2, 2022 10:39 PM

      What, exactly, is a "Twitter campaign donation"? Is that from employees of the company to a political campaign? Is that from a campaign to Twitter as a company? Is that from Twitter as a company to a political campaign?

      Any way you break it down, I guess the Republicans should've calmed their shit-stirring if they wanted donations/access.

      • reply
        December 2, 2022 10:40 PM

        Trump Staffer Mike Hahn "didn't apricate" the treatment they received.

    • rms legacy 10 years legacy 20 years mercury super mega
      December 3, 2022 7:12 AM

      Guess we have to rely on EU regulators to rein in elon.

    • reply
      December 3, 2022 9:31 AM

      Hillary Clinton's emails all over again. There's nothing there other then dick pics

      • reply
        December 3, 2022 9:40 AM

        explains why republicans want to see it so bad.

    • reply
      December 3, 2022 11:10 AM

      I guess ‘but his cock’ is the new ‘but her emails’?

    • reply
      December 3, 2022 12:18 PM

      Why is shacknews acting like this is somehow legitimate? I've never seen this site carry water for a blatant conman like this. Really disappointing.

    • reply
      December 4, 2022 2:33 PM

      Facebook had employees working DIRECTLY in the whitehouse, but somehow this twitter non-event is somehow a thing.

      I think they just REALLY wanna see Hunter's dong.

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