Musk's Surprise Friday Leak: 'The Twitter Files'

Writer Matt Taibbi posts internal convos on story on Hunter Biden's laptop, but not everyone's impressed
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 3, 2022 10:45 AM CST
Musk's Surprise Friday Drop: Twitter's Hunter Biden Files
Elon Musk attends the opening of a Tesla factory in Gruenheide, Germany, on March 22.   (Patrick Pleul/Pool Photo via AP, File)

If tech reporters on the Twitter/Elon Musk beat thought they were going to get an early start to the weekend on Friday, a late afternoon tweet by Musk himself dashed those hopes. "What really happened with the Hunter Biden story suppression by Twitter will be published on Twitter at 5pm ET!" Musk posted at around 3:30pm, referring to the social media platform's handling of a 2020 New York Post article on Biden's laptop files—an article that was initially restricted on both Twitter and Facebook as they tried to figure out if the files were genuine. That accounting Musk promised didn't end up on Twitter until just past 6:30pm—Musk said some last-minute fact-checking was needed—but, based on the reaction afterward, plenty of people stuck around to read it. More on Musk's leak:

  • Who revealed the info: The details came via a lengthy thread entitled the "The Twitter Files," compiled by writer and censorship critic Matt Taibbi, who was given access by "sources at Twitter" to review "thousands of internal documents" around the Biden hubbub. The pre-Musk Twitter "took extraordinary steps to suppress the [Post] story," Taibbi claimed in one tweet.
  • What was revealed: Per NBC News and Politico, the thread showed both internal and external deliberations on whether or not it was the right move to block the Biden story, and how to explain decisions made to the public and lawmakers. Taibbi included screenshots of October 2020 emails from un-IDed staffers on Joe Biden's presidential campaign team asking Twitter contacts to review certain tweets. Per NBC, however, "many if not all" of the tweets, three of which featured pics of Hunter Biden, had breached Twitter rules. The outlet also notes that "many of the details released on Friday night had already been public."
  • Response: Politico notes that, at the very least, the newly revealed conversations "offer insight on the dissent and confusion inside Twitter" around the Biden story. But some are also saying there's nothing untoward on much of what Taibbi presented. "Elon Musk paid $44 billion to discover what we already knew: content moderation is messy and involves whole teams of people with a range of viewpoints trying to appease different political factions," NBC reporter Ben Collins tweeted.

  • Other criticism: At the Verge, Jacob Kastrenakes calls the "Twitter Files" a "flop" and writes that "the documents don't show what Musk thinks they show." He also points out that Taibbi "doxxed multiple people" in his thread, posting the personal email addresses for ex-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (a tweet that has since been deleted) and Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, as well as unnecessarily including the names of several Twitter employees in the leak. "Given the fervor around Hunter's laptop, the leaked materials could expose some of those people to harassment," Kastrenakes writes.
  • Not government meddling: Kastrenakes adds that, despite Musk suggesting otherwise, the Biden campaign team's request for tweet reviews wasn't a violation of the First Amendment, as the Biden campaign wasn't a government entity, and that it simply flagged the offending tweets to be reviewed under existing Twitter rules. Taibbi himself writes: "There's no evidence—that I've seen—of any government involvement in the laptop story."
  • Eyebrow-raising even from the right: The Daily Beast also uses the word "flop" to describe the Musk/Taibbi drop, noting that even some conservatives were unimpressed. "Deeply underwhelmed," former Trump administration official Seb Gorka described the revelations. Far-right Twitter competitor Gab, meanwhile, called the story a "nothingburger" and criticized Musk for revealing "nothing new whatsoever beyond what we have all known for years now."
  • What's next: Whatever everyone's thoughts, the drama surrounding all of this may not be over. "Tune in for Episode 2 of The Twitter Files tomorrow!" Musk tweeted later Friday night, adding that there would also be a Saturday Q&A.
(Read more Elon Musk stories.)

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