Dec 4, 2022

The Twitter files Transcript

The Twitter files Transcript
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The files are an Elon Musk-endorsed expose, revealing internal documents about how the company handled a news article. Read the transcript here.

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Alyson LeGrange (00:00):

Hashtag Twitter files is trending on Twitter. The files are an Elon Musk endorsed expose revealing internal documents about how the company handled a news article. The New York Post article in question here was about Hunter Biden. It was published in the run up to the 2020 US Presidential elections. As per what is being called the Twitter files, A small group of top level Twitter executives decided to label the New York Post article as hacked material, allegedly without any evidence. That too, behind the back of the then CEO and founded Jack Dorsey. Earlier today, Twitter’s current CEO, Elon Musk, retweeted independent journalist, Matt’s Taibbi’s Twitter thread titled the Twitter Files, the files, which are part one of the expose shared light on Twitter’s controversial censorship decision. Taibbi calls his expose a Frankensteinian tale of a human built mechanism grown out of the control of its designer. He banks his claims by what he says are emails between Twitter employees.

According to Taibbi, Twitter’s former head of legal policy and trust Vijaya Gadde played a key role in the censorship decision. The company’s rationale for taking the censorship step was that the story violated the company’s hacked materials. Policy Taibbi claims that this rationale was questioned by many insiders. Even Twitter’s then vice president of Global Communications questioned if Twitter can truthfully claim that this is a part of the policy and Taibbi says that Twitter took extraordinary steps to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story, removing links to the expose shared by users and posting warnings that it may be unsafe. Twitter even resorted to a rarely used tactic to stop the dissemination of the story that is blocking the sharing of links to the story even via direct message. Such a tool is usually only used in extreme cases such as to stop the distribution of child pornography.

Twitter’s censorship of the story led to then White House Press Secretary Kaleigh McEnany getting locked out of her account with just weeks before the 2020 election. Elon Musk, who purchased Twitter last month has previously insisted that full disclosure was needed to determine why Twitter decided to block the article. Musk had been teasing the release of the internal files for several days, arguing that the public deserves to know what really happened. Taibbi through his Twitter files also revealed company emails responding to a request allegedly from the Biden team shortly after the company cracked down on the Hunter Biden story. One email dated October the 24th, 2020 contained a list of tweets that had the message more to review from the Biden team. In response, someone wrote back, “Handle these.” Taibbi further notes that both Republicans and Democrats had access to these tools. He says in 2020 requests from both the Trump White House and the Biden campaign were received and honored.

But the independent journalist notes that the system wasn’t balanced and was based on contacts. He argues that because Twitter was and is overwhelmingly staffed by people of one political orientation, there were more channels open to the Democrats than others. Twitter as well as Facebook took extraordinary censorship measures against the New York Post when it first published its expose on the trove of emails discovered on Hunter Biden’s laptop in October, 2020.

The platform prohibited users from sharing the article and also locked the New York Post out of its Twitter account. This for more than two weeks. Now Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO at the time later admitted during a congressional hearing that blocking the report was a total mistake. Now for more on this, we are being joined by Adrian Mars, who is a technology journalist from London. Thank you for being with us. Now, this Elon Musk endorsed expose revealing the internal documents about how the company handled the news article about Hunter Biden. Take us through the important details of this expose.

Adrian Mars (04:40):

Well, there’s a lot of back and forth going on in these tweets and it comes down really to the veracity of the original story, which has been questioned a lot since. There’s been lots of forensic analysis of the laptop data. There’s a lot of problems with it, but none of this was known at the time. So it was a story verified by the New York poster, a respectable news organization and it was suppressed. That said, as you said, the, we will be hearing about a lot of stories presumably leaked by Musk that also represent stories on the other side of the political spectrum that have been suppressed. To what extent it doesn’t go into as to how these contacts are there. And it’s an issue with all the social media networks in that they’re paid as their advertisers and their advertisers are very often political parties. And therefore there’s a lot of contacts between the people inside social media and the very people who they’re supposedly meant to have a very independent hands off relationship with when it comes to this sort of thing.

In this case, there’s been so much back and forth within Twitter that it’s very hard to know really how much this is conspiracy versus simple bad decision that they doubled down on. Really, and how selective this leaking of information is because this is coming from people who also have an agenda and if you dig through almost any corporate pile of internal emails and dig out certain examples, you can certainly lead people to think one way or the other on this sort of thing. It’s very, very hard to know whether there was a serious problem in Twitter backing the Democrats rather than the Republicans consistently. And I suspect we will find out more in part because so many people have left Twitter and over time a lot of those people will talk. They’ve lost sort of roughly 80% of their employees.

Alyson LeGrange (07:28):

Yeah, absolutely. Now, Adrian, this of course comes at a time where Musk has been facing tough questions on the idea of censorship and freedom of expression on Twitter. How will this story and the ones who come in the future impact these debates?

Adrian Mars (07:46):

Well, it’s really the bigger concern for all social media is how will legislators react, I think. Public confidence is probably something that’s more related to preexisting views. Whether it’ll, I think for those who think that there is something of a conspiracy that their side of the political spectrum is not being represented properly, probably won’t change their views, but it does raise serious issues as to how these people are regulated.

They do hold, is it simple freedom of the press free speech. They can do what they want, which is the legal position, certainly, or at least in the states. Or is there a, will there be actual pressures put on them and legal requirements for them to act even handedly as there is, for instance, in the UK with broadcast television and radio news, but not in the US. So in the US it’s maybe less constitutional to do so because of their freedom of the press constitutional Second Amendment rules. But that said, there are ways to impose media regulation. It’s not a total free for all. So only time will tell and I don’t know.

Alyson LeGrange (09:22):

Absolutely. Adrian, thank you very much for being with us and bringing us the latest details coming out of this Twitter story.

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