Suspending Trump, Hunter Biden, “shadow banning”… What do internal network documents reveal?

“The Twitter files about the suppression of free speech will soon be posted on Twitter. The public deserves to know what really happened. At the end of November, Elon Musk announced the upcoming publication of internal documents of the company specifically to prove that the network is indeed run by leftists. woke up having censored conservative voices, shielded Hunter and Joe Biden, and falsely suspended Donald Trump after the Capitol stormed. But instead of a transparent internal audit, the “Twitter files” produced five threads published by journalists chosen by Musk. Who seems more interested in validating grievances that are often exaggerated and without context than in establishing a nuanced inventory of platform moderation.

Who are the journalists who publish the “Twitter files”?

Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss are two independent journalists who have now worked for several major American media. Taibbi conducted Wall Street surveys for the magazine Rolling stoneand Weiss went through the New York Times as a columnist. Both describe themselves as centrists disillusioned with the “mainstream media” which, in their view, is too far to the left. In their Substack newsletter, they regularly play contrarian, especially on Covid for Taibbi and on gender issues for Weiss.

Do they have access to users’ private messages?

The question arose after Bari Weiss posted a screenshot of the LibsofTikTok account where the “Direct messages” folder can be seen. Former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos and constitutional law professor Orin Kerr noted that Elon Musk faces legal action if he gives access to the private messages of some users to journalists. But in the process, a Twitter executive, Ella Irwin, confirmed that she was the one who took this screenshot, clarifying that the journalists had “no access” to the company’s internal tools or to the user’s posts.

What did the Twitter files reveal about Hunter Biden?

Not much new. Three weeks before the 2020 presidential election, the New York Post published emails and photos of Joe Biden’s son, claiming they were from Hunter Biden’s personal laptop left at a repair shop 18 months ago . Faced with doubts about the origin of this October surprise, Twitter, warned by the FBI that the “hack & leak” disinformation campaign risks disrupting the election, for the first time decided to block any sharing of the article link.

In sworn testimony two years ago, former Twitter security chief Yoel Roth said in retrospect that the decision was a “mistake”. In his first thread, Matt Taibbi revealed that the decision was not unanimous internally, and especially that it was taken without the knowledge of boss Jack Dorsey. We also learned that Biden’s team flagged five tweets that were deleted by Twitter moderators. The reporter failed to specify that it was pornographic content, including pictures of Hunter Biden’s privates. Taibbi also acknowledged that Donald Trump’s team also has the same access to Twitter for urgent moderating questions. And an important detail: if the Hunter Biden saga shows that he tried to earn his family’s name around the world, especially by sitting on the Board of Directors of the Ukrainian energy group Burisma, no one would suggest inappropriate -Joe’s behavior. Biden.

Is Twitter scrutinizing conservatives and practicing “shadow banning”?

Bari Weiss then turned to Twitter moderation. Who is accused of putting a doctor who campaigned against imprisonment and for mass natural immunity, Jay Bhattacharya, on a “Trends blacklist”, which prevented his tweets from trending during the day. And two conservative figures, Dan Bongino and Charlie Kirk, on a “search blacklist” and a “do not amplify” list.

Did the three examples given constitute repeated violations? How many users have undergone this type of treatment? Are Conservatives more affected than Liberals? Weiss had no context and didn’t seem interested in the answer.

Conservatives see this as proof that Twitter is guilty of shadow banning. But the meaning of this practice of quietly reducing the visibility of certain accounts without completely suspending them remains unclear. In 2018, Twitter strongly rejected the shadow ban, ensuring that all tweets remain visible by going directly to a profile. The network has never hidden, however, that it weighs tweets in its ranking algorithms. What all platforms do. Elon Musk himself declared that he would do the same with his “freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach” philosophy: “Negative or hateful tweets will be deboosted and demonetized. You will not find these tweets unless you explicitly search for them. »

Did Twitter break its rules by suspending Donald Trump?

The last three episodes The “Twitter files” look into the suspension of Donald Trump from the platform after the attack on the Capitol. Twitter initially suspended the account of the American president within 12 hours after the publication of the video in which he repeated “The election was stolen from us”. Two days later, Donald Trump wrote that he would not run for Biden’s inauguration and that “no one disrespects the 75 million patriotic Americans who voted for me”. Twitter then invokes its rule against “glorification of violence” and the dangers of future excesses to justify a permanent suspension.

This decision sparked debate around the world, including internally. According to documents consulted by Bari Weiss, some Twitter executives considered that the messages of the American president did not reach the bar of “incitement to violence”. But while the network’s decision may be criticized, the company is well within its rights. The First Amendment protects free speech from government limitation. Private companies can moderate their platform as they see fit.

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