Althouse | category: Ro Khanna



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"I think it's a lazy response to say that Twitter’s a private company. That may get you a good grade in high school..."

"... but everyone who's taken a constitutional law class knows that. The point is, of course, they're a private entity. The question then becomes, What is the responsibility of private entities to democracy and the public sphere? If The Washington Post or The New York Times had a policy to say we aren't going to print any progressive politicians op-eds, that's their right, but we would be critical of that. And they don’t have as much of a reach as Twitter in terms of users or followers. The debate should be about what you think a good public forum looks like and less about what the specific legal requirements are on Twitter."

Said Ro Khanna, quoted in an interview with Bari Weiss titled "The Twitter Files and the Future of the Democratic Party/With Silicon Valley's Congressman Ro Khanna on why we should be skeptical of Big Tech's power" (The Free Press).

"A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution."

Wrote Donald Trump, at Truth Social, quoted in "White House rebukes Trump’s suggestion to suspend Constitution over 2020 election" (WaPo).

The post came a day after Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, claimed he would expose how Twitter engaged in “free speech suppression” in the run-up to the 2020 election. But his “Twitter Files” did not show that the tech giant bent to the will of Democrats. 

Trump's "truth" is so hyperbolic and disrespectful of the rule of law that it's idiotic clickbait, only worthy of attention because the man is running for President, and apparently, as polls go, the leading candidate. Sorry, I'm not going to spend every day agonizing over that. We will move on... I hope... I trust... He's so over-criticized that I don't see the point of jumping on him one more time. That doesn't work, and it drives some dedicated believers more deeply into his sphere.

I want to move on to the link in the indented quote — on "did not show" — which goes to "Elon Musk’s ‘Twitter Files’ ignite divisions, but haven’t changed minds/The company’s new chief executive detailed Twitter’s decision-making around a controversial story" (WaPo). 

Yesterday morning, I was critical of The Washington Post for not having an article on the "Twitter files," but by the end of the day, they had that. Let's read:

It was billed as a bombshell: Elon Musk, after rifling through his new company’s internal files, would finally expose how Twitter engaged in “free speech suppression” in the critical run up to the 2020 election....

A handful of screenshots from 2020, posted over the course of two hours Friday evening in a disjointed, roughly 40-tweet thread, show the San Francisco company debating a decision to restrict sharing of a controversial New York Post story about the son of then Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

The Twitter thread, based on internal communications posted by Substack writer Matt Taibbi, showed the company independently decided to limit the spread of the article, without Democratic politicians, the Biden campaign or FBI exerting control over the social media network. In fact, the only input from a sitting politician that Taibbi noted was from Silicon Valley Rep. Ro Khanna (D), who told Twitter executives they should distribute the story, regardless of the potential consequences for his party....

In the process, Musk took the extraordinary step of promoting the leak of internal company communications to Taibbi, exposing the names of several rank-and-file workers and Khanna’s personal email address....

Musk and Taibbi both tweeted that they would reveal more information in a second chapter Saturday.

Yeah? What happened? I go to Twitter and see that last night Musk tweeted "Looks like we will need another day or so." I hope that means he/Taibbi are trying to incorporate the criticisms of the Friday tweet-dump and will make a clearer, cleaner presentation in Part 2.

Back to WaPo:

Musk [said in a Twitter Spaces audio chat Saturday afternoon] that he shared the documents with another Substack writer, Bari Weiss, and suggested he may share them with the public in the future.

Bari Weiss didn't want to do what Matt Taibbi did?

WaPo proceeds to put the Twitter files bombshell/"bombshell" in context, and I really appreciate this concise summary:

The spectacle capped off another week of chaos at Musk’s Twitter, after the “chief Twit” spent Friday afternoon meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and batting back reports about the rise of hate speech on the Twitter platform. He also attracted attention for suspending the rapper Ye, who had tweeted the image of a swastika combined with the Star of David. And the relaunch of a paid check mark system expected for Friday was delayed again, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the decision.

I still hadn't seen that swastika-with-a-Star-of-David image, and WaPo didn't reproduce it. I had to go looking and found it — here — at The Times of Israel. I had thought the swastika was stamping out the star, but I see that the 2 symbols have been interwoven in a way that makes it even harder to see how the image could be adjudged a direct incitement to imminent violence, which was Musk's reason for suspending Ye. 

From WaPo:

During the Twitter Spaces, Musk said, “I personally wanted to punch Kanye,” explaining how Ye’s swastika post was incitement to violence. He said he made the decision to suspend him.

So Musk is allowed to explicitly refer to violence — punching — but Ye gets suspended based on Musk's stretched inference. And are we still supposed to be celebrating Musk as a hero of fairness and freedom?

Musk’s “free speech” agenda has defined his tumultuous takeover of Twitter, as he has argued since the early days of the deal that the platform serve as a “de facto town square” where people are “able to speak freely within the bounds of the law.” He has asserted that the company has a “strong left wing bias.” And in recent days, he has granted amnesty to a number of previously suspended accounts, including far-right influencers and people associated with the QAnon extremist ideology.

Though Musk has said he agrees with some Democratic Party and some Republican policies, he increasingly appears to be courting the GOP. In the run-up to the midterm elections, he encouraged his millions of followers to vote Republican. And he recently said he would lean toward backing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in a potential 2024 presidential bid....

Yes, hold Musk's feet to the fire — metaphorically only! — if he wants to be the Czar of Free Speech. He'd better be scrupulously viewpoint neutral. It's got to be about our freedom, not his power and wealth.

Taibbi said that he had to “agree to certain conditions” in exchange for the opportunity to cover the files in a message to his Substack subscribers....

What were the conditions? Maybe Bari Weiss can tell us. 

The next section of the WaPo article recounts the Taibbi thread in detail and adding context. I'm not going to quote all of that. There's also, at the very end, a little bit about the response.

Tucker Carlson called it “one of the most extraordinary moments in the history of social media,” and the New York Post called it a “Hunter Biden laptop bombshell” in a headline....

But not everyone bought the "bombshell" spin.

How elite media is covering Elon Musk's dumping of information about how Twitter helped the Democratic Party in the 2020 election.

First, let me say, I would like a well-written, organized, comprehensive piece of writing explaining this material. Alternatively, show me everything — all the raw material.

Instead, Elon Musk directed us to the Twitter account of Matt Taibbi, and we were expected to receive a long series of tweets and to puzzle through it. Was that to drive massive traffic to Twitter? Was it supposed to be better all fragmented like that?

It certainly wasn't a way to get quick updates to news that was suddenly breaking. It's an old story: Twitter was skewed to favor Democrats. Now, presumably, there's impressive proof. Present the proof in a clear organized fashion!

Musk enlisted Matt Taibbi, so why couldn't Matt Taibbi create a readable document and then just tweet a link to that document?

We were all supposed to cobble the story together on our own. I tried, but I couldn't even figure out how to just get a straight line of Taibbi's tweets. I couldn't move all the responses out of the way. The path was cluttered with other people's tweets — memes about waiting for the next tweet, laughs about how this is just what everybody already knew anyway. What a confusing mess!

After a full night's sleep, I want to do a post, and I can't even figure out where to click to get the Taibbi tweets lined up in order! I do see a lot of blue checks homing in on Tweet #10: "10.Both parties had access to these tools. For instance, in 2020, requests from both the Trump White House and the Biden campaign were received and honored. However:"

"However:" sets up the next tweets, the ones that (supposedly) show the Democrats using the tools and receiving a sympathetic response from Twitter insiders. Most of this seems to be about the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story.

What I'd like to see this morning is a clear presentation of what was dribbled out last night. I look first to my favorite source for half a century: The New York Times.

There's nothing at the top of the home page, so I search the page for Twitter.

I get one article: "Twitter Keeps Missing Its Advertising Targets as Woes Mount." That's been a theme at the NYT: Twitter is doing badly under Musk. Woes Mount! But it doesn't say advertising is crashing or even down at all, just that there were "targets" and then those targets were missed. These were internal targets, so maybe they were very aggressive. I can't easily tell how woeful it is that these targets were missed.

I search the whole site for "taibbi" and "twitter" and easily see that the story I'm looking for is, at least at the moment, nonexistent.

I relocate to The Washington Post. Its home page is loaded with Twitter stories: "Gio Reyna has played seven minutes. This World Cup, he's the talk of Soccer Twitter," "TikTok, not Twitter, is the real menace," "From quitting to blocking: How to protect yourself on Musk’s Twitter," "Elon Musk says Kanye West suspended from Twitter after swastika tweet," "Twitter needs Apple more than Apple needs Twitter." 

Five stories, but not the one I'm looking for. I do the site search for "taibbi" and "twitter." Nothing!

I try NPR, BBC, CNN. Nothing. Nothing. Aha!

CNN comes through for me: "Released Twitter emails show how employees debated how to handle 2020 New York Post Hunter Biden story" by Brian Fung:

For days, Twitter owner Elon Musk had teased a massive bombshell disclosure based on internal company documents that he claimed would reveal “what really happened” inside Twitter when it decided to temporarily suppress a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden and his laptop.

But on Friday, instead of releasing a trove of documents to the public, Musk’s big reveal pointed to a series of tweets by the journalist Matt Taibbi, who had been provided with emails that largely corroborated what was already known about the incident.

That closely tracks my perception of what happened.

Attracting thousands of retweets, Taibbi’s winding tweet thread reaffirmed how, in the initial hours after the Post story went live, Twitter employees grappled with fears that it could have been the result of a Russian hacking operation.

Grappled with fears? Or did they desperately search for a justification to suppress the story and trump up the "Russian hacking" ground?

It showed employees on Twitter’s legal, policy and communications teams debating – and at times disagreeing – over whether to restrict the article under the company’s hacked materials policy, weeks before the 2020 election.... While some questioned the basis for the decision and warned that Twitter would be inviting allegations of anti-conservative bias, others within the company, including senior officials, said the circumstances surrounding the Post story were unclear and recommended caution, according to screenshots of internal communications shared by Taibbi.

(Then-CEO Jack Dorsey – whom Taibbi said was not involved in the decision – has told US lawmakers that in hindsight, suppressing the story was a mistake.)....

The Taibbi posts undercut a top claim by Musk and Republicans, who have accused the FBI of leaning on social media companies to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop stories.

Musk tweeted Friday night, amid the Taibbi posts, that Twitter had acted “under orders from the government.” Taibbi said in his series of tweets that “there is no evidence - that I’ve seen - of any government involvement in the laptop story.”

That's big! Does Musk not have legal advisers? He was trying to make a giant splash. Why didn't he do it right?

Hypothesis: He didn't really have the story he wanted, so he went all out to churn traffic on Twitter.

Maybe he intentionally gets things wrong so his antagonists will tweet to correct him. And then everyone can fight about that. What a happening place Twitter is! Let's all go tweet little bits and pieces and see who wins or who's funnier or meaner. And that's how Musk wins. It's not about getting to the truth, but getting everyone on Twitter, tweeting one thing after another. 

How wearisome! I'm just hoping this CNN piece — a normal article — will be reasonably organized and professional:

Lawyers for Facebook parent company Meta have made similar comments in recent weeks, disputing claims from Republicans that the FBI coerced Facebook to suppress the laptop stories.

Taibbi said the material he reviewed referenced general FBI warnings about potential attempted Russian interference in the elections, which also dovetails with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s public account of Facebook’s handling of the New York Post story and affirms how Twitter was on high alert for possible foreign meddling.

In the wake of the article’s suppression, Taibbi said one Democratic congressman, California Rep. Ro Khanna, wrote to Twitter’s chief legal officer suggesting it was a bad look and a departure from First Amendment ideals to suppress a news report containing details that affect a presidential candidate....

Twitter is a private company, but you can still argue that it ought to behave consistently with free speech ideals. This is a difficult concept for many people to understand, and I appreciate the precision of the language CNN is using here.

The tweet thread also highlighted how officials from both political parties routinely wrote to Twitter asking for specific tweets to be removed.... Taibbi said the contact from political parties happened more frequently from Democrats, but provided no internal documents to back up his assertion. He also did not say that Democrats requested that Twitter suppress the Post story, and his account did not suggest that the US government had ever pressured Twitter to suppress the story.

Thanks, CNN! That strikes me as a clear and balanced summary. If it's wrong, tell me exactly why. It's my touchstone at this point.

And, yes, I've known all along that I could find coverage in The New York Post.

The New York Post is all over it:

How elite media is covering Elon Musk's dumping of information about how Twitter helped the Democratic Party in the 2020 election.  

I had little hope this is going to be the kind of story I want. But the story in writing is not as sensationalistic as the front page graphics, and it helpfully brings out aspects that are missing from the CNN presentation. Highlights:

The chaos and confusion behind closed doors at Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the October 2020 Hunter Biden expose show that a small group of top-level execs decided to label the Post’s story as “hacked material” without any evidence — behind the back of then-CEO and founder Jack Dorsey. ...

According to Taibbi, Twitter’s former head of legal, policy, and trust Vijaya Gadde played a “key role” in the censorship decision. Damning emails and comments from former Twitter employees showed that “everyone knew” the social media giant’s suppression of The Post’s scoops about Hunter Biden’s infamous laptop. “was f—ed.”...

Hacking was the excuse, but within a few hours, pretty much everyone realized that wasn’t going to hold. But no one had the guts to reverse it,” the ex-employee added. “They just freelanced it,” a former employee told Taibbi about how the decision came about.

The decision left high-level executives puzzled. “I’m struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe,” Trenton Kennedy, a communications official wrote in an apparent internal email to colleagues.

To which former Twitter Deputy General Counsel Jim Baker responded that it is “reasonable” to assume materials were hacked and that “caution is warranted.”

“Can we truthfully claim that this is part of the policy?” former Twitter Vice President of Global Communications Brandon Borrman asks in another missive.

“Everyone knew this was f–ked,” a former worker told Taibbi about Twitter’s official stance of on the Hunter story. According to Taibbi, the social media company “took extraordinary steps to suppress”...

Twitter’s censorship of the story led to then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany getting locked out of her account with just weeks to go before the 2020 election.... 

Taibbi also tweeted: “Both parties had access to these tools. For instance, in 2020, requests from both the Trump White House and the Biden campaign were received and honored.” But the former Rolling Stone writer said the “system wasn’t balanced” and “was based on contacts.”

How elite media is covering Elon Musk's dumping of information about how Twitter helped the Democratic Party in the 2020 election.

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