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Elon Musk’s Twitter Files: A Giant Nothingburger?

Donald Trump on Twitter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Donald Trump on Twitter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Elon Musk’s The Twitter Files is especially interesting for one particular reason: It’s practically unprecedented, in the history of American business, for the new management of a company to release a massive amount of internal documents, for the express purpose of embarrassing and discrediting the previous management of a company. 

What’s less interesting about The Twitter Files, at least so far, is what’s actually in them.

At least so far, the document dump is a combination of old news, half-truths, unsupported insinuations, and unmet hype.

Plus, Musk baselessly implied that the company’s former head of trust and safety of “being sympathetic” to pedophile. 

What are the Twitter Files?

It’s a series of long Twitter threads, consisting of the release of internal Twitter documents, given by Elon Musk and Twitter’s current leadership to journalists that include Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss, and Michael Shellenberger, showing what they allege is a pattern of liberal bias at the social network in its pre-Musk incarnation as a public company. 

The different threads have dealt with a series of controversial topics: The first, by Taibbi, looked at Twitter’s decision to block the October 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop.

The second, by Weiss, was about the company’s decision to throttle the reach of certain accounts, while the third, by Taibbi again, dealt with the run-up of Twitter’s decision to remove Donald Trump’s account.

The fourth, by Shellenberger, and the fifth, by Weiss, were both about the actual removal of Trump on January 8, 2021, following the Capitol riot. Future installments are promised. 

Among those ideologically aligned with Musk, these revelations are pitched as shocking and earth-shattering, showing that Twitter at best showed a bias, and at worse is deserving of jail time for those responsible.

Trump himself, for his part, responded to the revelations by calling for “the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” in order to undo the injustice of the 2020 election and return him to office.  

But the truth is, the revelations uncovered in the Twitter Files aren’t nearly as damning as Musk and his cohorts allege.

For one thing, most of the emails contained therein, instead of proof of Twitter’s Trust and Safety team and others at the company engaged in nefarious conspiracies, instead show them applying due diligence to the information at hand, at times disagreeing among themselves. 

In the Hunter Biden part of it, for instance, Twitter has long since admitted that they were wrong to block the story, having believed at the time — as shown in the internal communications shared by Taibbi — that the story was part of a Russian disinformation campaign. And because Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani was the source of the laptop, and had been the target of a Russian influence operation not long before, that was not exactly a baseless assumption. 

The Hunter Biden segment of the files showed that both the Trump White House and Biden campaigns made requests to Twitter to remove certain tweets. But they were requests, not demands, and the ones from the Biden side can’t be considered government censorship since the campaign was not part of the government. 

If it were uncovered that, say, the government had a backdoor to Twitter’s backend and was able to delete tweets themselves, that would be pretty shocking. But nothing remotely close to that has been uncovered. 

“Taibbi revealed… basically nothing of interest,” Mike Masnick wrote for Techdirt. “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…. Taibbi revealed some internal emails in which various employees (going increasingly up the chain) discussed how to handle the story. Not once does anyone in what Taibbi revealed suggest anything even remotely politically motivated.” 

Donald Trump

As for the banishment of Trump, the files revealed mostly show that Twitter did not banish Trump prior to January 6, even though many Twitter employees had argued for doing so; there was a robust argument over the proper course of action, none of which implied any sort of conspiracy. The communications even show, per CNN, that some on Twitter’s safety team argued against the final decision to get rid of the ex-president’s account. 

Following the release of the first few tranches of the Twitter Files, Eric Levitz of New York Magazine made a salient point about the project: “For these reasons, the Twitter Files are best understood as an egregious example of the very phenomenon it purports to condemn — that of social-media managers leveraging their platforms for partisan ends.” 

Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.