I do not understand what your last sentence means so ask you to amplify it so that I can better understand it.
But I am reading the above which you provided. Many thanks for putting it here. It is outstanding. Should be read by all. But due to its extreme length few will read any of it.
Therefore I'll put some of its more powerful excepts here now:
The morning the NY Post story came out there was a lot of concern about the validity of the story. Other news organizations, including Fox News, had refused to touch it. NY Post reporters refused to put their name on it. There were other oddities, including the provenance of the hard drive data, which apparently had been in Rudy Giuliani’s hands for months. There were concerns about how the data was presented (specifically how the emails were converted into images and PDFs, losing their header info and metadata).
The fact that, much later on, many elements of the laptops history and provenance were confirmed as legitimate (with some open questions) is important, but does not change the simple fact that the morning the NY Post story came out, it was extremely unclear (in either direction) except to extreme partisans in both camps.
Based on that, both Twitter and Facebook reacted somewhat quickly. Twitter implemented its hacked materials policy in exactly the manner that we had warned might happen a month earlier: blocking the sharing of the NY Post link. Facebook implemented other protocols, “reducing its distribution” until it had gone through a fact check. Facebook didn’t ban the sharing of the link (like Twitter did), but rather limited the ability for it to “trend” and get recommended by the algorithm until fact checkers had reviewed it.
To be clear, the decision by Twitter to do this was, in our estimation, pretty stupid. It was exactly what we had warned about just a month earlier regarding this exact policy. But this is the nature of trust & safety. People need to make very rapid decisions with very incomplete information. That’s why I’ve argued ever since then that while the policy was stupid, it was no giant scandal that it happened, and given everything, it was not a stretch to understand how it played out.
Also, importantly, the very next day Twitter realized it fucked up, admitted so publicly, and changed the hacked materials policy saying that it would no longer block links to news sources based on this policy (though it might add a label to such stories). The next month, Jack Dorsey, in testifying before Congress, was pretty transparent about how all of this went down.
All of this seemed pretty typical for any kind of trust & safety operation. As I’ve explained for years, mistakes in content moderation (especially at scale) are inevitable. And, often, the biggest reason for those mistakes is the lack of context. That was certainly true here.
Yet, for some reason, the story has persisted for years now that Twitter did something nefarious, engaging in election interference that was possibly at the behest of “the deep state” or the Biden campaign. For years, as I’ve reported on this, I’ve noted that there was literally zero evidence to back any of that up. So, my ears certainly perked up last Friday when Elon Musk said that he was about to reveal “what really happened with the Hunter Biden story suppression.”
Certainly, if there was evidence of something nefarious behind closed doors, that would be important and worth covering. If it was true that through discussions I’ve had with dozens of Twitter employees over the past few years every single one of them lied about what happened, well, that would also be useful for me to know.
And then Taibbi revealed… basically nothing of interest. He revealed a few internal communications that… simply confirmed everything that was already public in statements made by Twitter, Jack Dorsey’s Congressional testimony, and in declarations made as part of a Federal Elections Commission investigation into Twitter’s actions. There were general concerns about foreign state influence campaigns, including “hack and leak” in the lead up to the election, and there were questions about the provenance of this particular data, so Twitter made a quick (cautious) judgment call and implemented a (bad) policy. Then it admitted it fucked up and changed things a day later. That’s… basically it.
And, yet, the story has persisted over and over and over again. Incredibly, even after the details of Taibbi’s Twitter thread revealed nothing new, many people started pretending that it had revealed something major, with even Elon Musk insisting that this was proof of some massive 1st Amendment violation:
Now, apparently more files are going to be published, so something may change, but so far it’s been a whole lot of utter nonsense. But when I say that both here on Techdirt and on Twitter, I keep seeing a few very, very wrong arguments being made. So, let’s get to the debunking:
1. If you said Twitter’s decision to block links to the NY Post was election interference…
You’re wrong. Very much so. First off, there was, in fact, a complaint to the FEC about this very point, and the FEC investigated and found no election interference at all. It didn’t even find evidence of it being an “in-kind” contribution. It found no evidence that Twitter engaged in politically motivated decision making, but rather handled this in a non-partisan manner consistent with its business objectives:
All of this is actually confirmed by the Twitter Files from Taibbi/Musk, even as both seem to pretend otherwise.
2. But Twitter’s decision to “suppress” the story was a big deal and may have swung the election to Biden!
I’m sorry, but there remains no evidence to support that silly claim either. First off, Twitter’s decision actually seemed to get the story a hell of a lot more attention. Again, as noted above, Twitter did nothing to stop discussion of the story. It only blocked links to one story in the NY Post, and only for that one day. And the very fact that Twitter did this (and Facebook took other action) caused a bit of a Streisand Effect (hey!) which got the underlying story a lot more attention because of the decisions by those two companies.
The reality, though, is that the story just wasn’t that big of a deal for voters. Hunter Biden wasn’t the candidate. His father was. Everyone already pretty much knew that Hunter is a bit of a fuckup and clearly personally profiting off of the situation, but there was no actual big story in the revelations (I mean, yeah, there are still some people who insist there are, but they’re the same people who misunderstood the things we’re debunking here today). And, if we’re going to talk about kids of Presidents profiting off of their last name, well, there’s a pretty long list to go down….
But don’t take my word for it, let’s look at the evidence. As reporter Philip Bump recently noted, there’s actual evidence in Google search trends that Twitter and Facebook’s decision really did generate a lot more interest in the story. It was well after both companies took action that searches on Google for Hunter Biden shot upward:
Also, soon after, Twitter reversed its policy, and there was widespread discussion of the laptop in the next three weeks leading up to the election. The brief blip in time in which Twitter and Facebook limited the story seemed to have only fueled much more interest in it, rather than “suppressing” it.
So again, the evidence actually suggests that the story wasn’t suppressed at all. It got more attention. It didn’t swing the election, because most people didn’t find the story particularly revealing.
3. The government pressured Twitter/Facebook to block this story, and that’s a huge 1st Amendment violation / treason / crime of the century / etc.
Yeah, so, that’s just not true. I’ve spent years calling out government pressure on speech, from Democrats (and more Democrats) to Republicans (and more Republicans). So I’m pretty focused on watching when the government goes over the line — and quick to call it out. And there remains no evidence at all of that happening here. At all. Taibbi admits this flat out:
Incredibly, I keep seeing people on Twitter claim that Taibbi said the exact opposite. And you have people like Glenn Greenwald who insist that Taibbi only meant “foreign” governments here, despite all the evidence to the contrary. If he had found evidence that there was US government pressure here… why didn’t he post it? The answer: because it almost certainly does not exist.
Some people point to Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance over the summer on Joe Rogan’s podcast as “proof” that the FBI directed both companies to suppress the story, but that’s not at all what Zuckerberg said if you listened to his actual comments. Zuckerberg admits that they make mistakes, and that it feels terrible when they do. He goes into a pretty detailed explanation of some of how trust & safety works in determining whether or not a user is authentic. Then Rogan asks about the laptop story, and Zuckerberg says:
So, basically, the background here, is the FBI basically came to us, some folks on our team, and were like “just so you know, you should be on high alert, we thought there was a lot of Russian propaganda in the 2016 election, we have it on notice, basically, that there’s about to be some kind of dump that’s similar to that. So just be vigilant.”
This does not say that the FBI came to Facebook and said “suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story.” It was just a general warning that the FBI had intelligence that there might be some foreign influence operations, and to “be vigilant.”
This is nearly identical to what Twitter’s then head of “site integrity,” Yoel Roth, noted in his declaration in the FEC case discussed above:
Basically the FBI is saying, in general, they have some intelligence that this kind of attack may happen, so be careful. It did not say to censor the info. It didn’t involve any threats. It wasn’t specifically about the laptop story.
4. The Biden campaign / Democrats demanded Twitter censor the NY Post! And that’s a 1st Amendment violation / treason / the crime of the century / etc.
So, again, the only way that there’s a 1st Amendment violation is if the government issued the demand. And in October of 2020, the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee… were not the government. The 1st Amendment does not restrict their ability, as private citizens (even while campaigning for public office) to flag content for Twitter to review against its policies. Hilariously, Elon Musk seems kinda confused about how time works. That tweet that we screenshotted about about the “1st Amendment” violation is in response to an internal email that Taibbi revealed about what Taibbi (misleadingly) says are “requests from connected actors to delete tweets” followed by a screenshot of Twitter employees listing out some tweets saying “more to review from the Biden team” and someone responding “handled these.”
5. But Jim Baker! He worked for the FBI! And he was in charge of the Twitter files! Clearly he’s covering up stuff!
Here we are ripping from the stupidity headlines. This one came out just last night as Taibbi added a “supplement” to the Twitter files, again seemingly confused about how basically anything works. According to Taibbi in a very unclear and awkwardly worded thread, he and Bari Weiss (another opinion columnist who Musk has decided to share the files with) were having some sort of “complication” in accessing the files. Taibbi claims that Twitter’s Deputy General Counsel, Jim Baker, was reviewing the files, and somehow this was as problem (he does not explain why or how, though there’s a lot of conjecture).
Baker is, in fact, the former General Counsel at the FBI. It made news when he was hired.
Baker was subject to a bunch of conspiracy theory stuff a few years ago regarding the FBI and some of the sillier theories regarding the Trump campaign, including the Steele Dossier and the even sillier “Alfa Bank” story (which had always been silly and lots of people, including us, had mocked when it came out).
But despite all that, there’s really little evidence that Baker has done anything particularly noteworthy here. The stuff about his actions while at the FBI is totally overblown partisan hackery. People talk about the so-called “criminal investigation” he faced for his work looking into Russian interference in the 2020 election, but that appears to be something mostly cooked up by extreme Trumpists in the House and appears to have gone nowhere. And, yes, he was a witness at the Michael Sussman trial, which was sorta connected to the Alfa Bank stuff, but his testimony supported John Durham, not Michael Sussman, in that he claimed that Sussman made a false statement to him, which the entire case hinged on (and, for what it’s worth, the trial ended in acquittal).
In other words, almost all of the FBI-related accusations against Baker are entirely “guilt by association” type claims, with nothing at all legitimate to back them up.
As for Twitter, we already highlighted Baker’s email that Taibbi revealed, which shows a normal, thoughtful, cautious discussion of a normal trust & safety debate, with nothing even remotely political.
The latest claims from Taibbi and Weiss also don’t make much sense. Elon Musk has told his company to hand over a bunch of internal documents to reporters. Any corporate lawyer would naturally do a fairly standard document review before doing so to make sure that they’re not handing over any private information or something else that might create legal issues for Musk. And since a large chunk of the legal team has left the company, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the task ended up on Baker’s desk.
Now, you can argue (as Taibbi and others now imply) that there’s some massive conflict of interest here, but, uh… that’s not at all clear, and not really how conflict of interest works. And, again, there’s little indication that Baker had a major role here at all, beyond being one of many who weighed in on this matter (and did so in a perfectly reasonable manner).
Honestly, Baker not reviewing the documents first would have potentially put him in legal jeopardy for not doing the very basic function of his job in making sure the company he worked for didn’t put itself in serious legal jeopardy by revealing things that might create huge liabilities for Musk and the company.
6. Still, all this proved that Twitter is “illegally” biased towards Democrats!
Taibbi made a big deal out of the fact that Twitter employees overwhelmingly donated to Democrats in their political contributions, which is not exactly new or surprising. Musk commented on this as well, suggesting sarcastically it was proof of bias at Twitter, but left out that among the companies in the chart he was commenting on… was also Tesla, where over 90% of employee donations went to Democrats.
But, more importantly, it’s not surprising in the least. Employees of many companies lean left. Executives (who donate way more money) tend to lean right. I mean, you can look at a similar chart of executive donations that shows they overwhelmingly go to Republicans. Neither is illegal, or even a problem. It’s just reality.
And companies making editorial decisions are… in fact… allowed to have bias in their political viewpoints. I would bet that if you looked at donations by employees at the NY Post or Fox News, they would generally favor Republicans. Indeed, imagine what would happen if someone took over Fox News and suddenly started revealing (1) communications between Fox News execs and Republican politicians and campaigns and (2) internal editorial meeting notes regarding what to promote. Don’t you think it would be way more biased than what the Twitter files revealed?
Here’s the important point on that: Fox News’ clear bias is not illegal either. And, indeed, if Democrats in Congress held hearings on “Fox News’ bias” and demanded that its top executives appear and explain their editorial decision making in promoting GOP talking points, people should be outraged over the clear intimidation factor, which would obviously be problematic from a 1st Amendment angle. Yet I don’t expect people to get all that worked up about the same thing happening to Twitter, even though it’s actually the same issue.
Companies are allowed to be biased. But the amazing thing revealed in the Twitter files is just how little evidence there is that any bias was a part of the debate on how to handle this stuff. Everything appeared to be about perfectly reasonable business decisions.
And… that’s it. I fear that this story is going to live on for years and years and years. And the narrative full of nonsense is already taking shape. However, I like to work off of actual facts and evidence, rather than fever dreams and misinterpretations. And I hope that you’ll read this and start doing the same.