Elon Musk began teasing the publication of information he called “the Twitter Files,” as part of a series of recent tweets claiming to defend free speech.
Elon Musk heralded the release of Twitter Inc. executive emails that explore some of the internal debate at the social network over a controversial decision in 2020 to restrict access to a New York Post article about a laptop purportedly owned by Hunter Biden.
Writer Matt Taibbi posted a series of tweets and images of what he said were leaked internal Twitter messages and emails, without saying how he obtained them. Billionaire Musk, who took over Twitter in late October, earlier this week began teasing the publication of information he called “the Twitter Files,” as part of a series of recent tweets claiming to defend free speech and accusing the company’s former management — and advertisers such as Apple Inc. — of opposing it.
In late 2020, in the final weeks of the presidential campaign, Twitter decided to restrict a New York Post article containing unverified claims about Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine. Twitter said at the time that the Post story included screenshots and images that violated the company’s “Hacked Materials Policy,” which forbids users from sharing images of hacked materials on the site. The company blocked users from sharing the article on Twitter.
Then-Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey later tweeted that blocking the links without providing more context was “unacceptable.” The company also changed its policies shortly after restricting the Biden story, saying it would “label tweets to provide context instead of blocking links” to stories. Dorsey also answered questions about the incident before Congress in November 2020 alongside Meta Platforms Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
In one message from that time, according to Taibbi, Trenton Kennedy, a member of Twitter’s communications team, wrote to a group including legal and policy head Vijaya Gadde and site integrity leader Yoel Roth to voice questions about why the story was being restricted.
“I’m struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe, and 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,” Taibbi’s tweets show Kennedy as writing. “We’ll face hard questions on this if we don’t have some kind of solid reasoning for marking the link unsafe.”
Kennedy declined to comment on the report on Friday.
Musk was aware that the tweet storm was coming on Friday, and intimated in a post on the network that he helped coordinate it, saying, “We’re double-checking facts, so probably start live tweeting in about 40 minutes.” When Taibbi began tweeting, Musk posted, “Here we go!!”
Even as Musk sought to build anticipation for the documents’ release, the materials shared by Taibbi on Friday broke relatively little new ground on a two-year-old episode. It’s not clear who authorized the release of the materials from Twitter, though Musk is in control and has dismissed many top executives, and was actively promoting Taibbi’s tweets on Friday. The full extent of the document release was unclear, since it was filtered through one reporter.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, conservative news outlets published information that purportedly came from a laptop that Hunter Biden had left at a Wilmington, Delaware, repair shop. Then-President Donald Trump’s campaign alleged the materials — the origin of which wasn’t verified by Bloomberg News — undercut Joe Biden’s claims that he and his son never discussed overseas business dealings.
Some Republicans said Twitter’s move to block the story helped President Joe Biden in his victory over Trump, but a Federal Election Commission ruled last year that Twitter didn’t break election laws by doing so.
Now, Joe Biden is gearing up to face Republican-led investigations next year that will examine Hunter Biden and his business dealings. GOP lawmakers allege the president’s son traded on his family name and created conflicts of interest for his father, allegations both men deny. A White House spokesman, Ian Sams, declined to comment on Friday.
Musk has attempted to please both sides of the online speech debate during his first few weeks in charge at Twitter, though like previous Twitter leaders he has largely been unsuccessful.
Some conservatives who have said Twitter is too heavy-handed with moderation were upset that Musk on Thursday suspended rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, for sharing antisemitic posts. Others who feel Twitter doesn’t go far enough on policing content are upset that Musk reinstated hundreds of banned accounts to the platform, including Trump’s.
A New York Times story Friday said that Twitter has seen a dramatic rise in hate speech since Musk took over; Musk replied that the story was “utterly false.”