Science

Twitter Files: What They Are and Why They Matter

The so-called Twitter files are the brainchild of Twitter owner Elon Musk, who has said he wants to show “really what happened” behind the scenes about content moderation decisions at the social media company before he bought it in October.

The Twitter files have been released in dribs and dribs throughout December, with three journalists — Matt Tibby, Bari Weiss and Michael Shellenberger — digging into internal documents and discussions to uncover the company’s decision-making process around some high-profile actions. engrossed in Sanctioning former President Donald Trump in January 2020.

Under Musk, who has said he wants Twitter to be a Mecca for free speech, the company has Restored some previously banned accounts, such as those related to Trump and far-right Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. (Yeh, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, was restored again but then banned again less than two weeks later.) Musk has been critical of prior management’s content moderation decisions, arguing that they engaged in censorship.

Here’s what to know about the Twitter files and what they reveal.

What are Twitter files?

The Twitter files contain thousands of internal documents, including several lingering discussions between Twitter employees about their content moderation decisions.

So far, there have been five releases from the Twitter files, each focusing on a different aspect of Twitter’s content moderation.

What do Twitter files show?

The internal discussions reportedly reveal debate among executives at Twitter over content moderation issues, such as whether Trump violated the company’s content policies with several of his tweets following the January 6 attack.

The files are said to shed light on the tools used by the platform to deal with accounts or tweets that violated its policies at the time, such as limiting the visibility of a tweet or user. Bari Weiss, one of the journalists given the document by Musk, tweeted that the decision to “actively limit the visibility of entire accounts or even trending topics” was in secret “without notifying users”. were done.

Most of the accounts Weiss exposed were tied to conservative voices, such as the far-right “Libs of TikTok” account and conservative activist Charlie Kirk.

The Twitter Files also goes into the company’s decisions about tweets related to the company’s initial report. Hunter Biden’s laptop, which was allegedly left at a Delaware computer repair shop and provided to the FBI under subpoena. The New York Post broke the story in October 2020.

At the time, Twitter and Facebook sought to limit the spread of the story over concerns about their sourcing and policies against using hacked content. Twitter reversed course a day later and revised its policy regarding hacked content, Saying It had received “a mixed response (ranging from critical to supportive)” regarding its handling of the story.

What about Hunter Biden’s laptop?

In the case of the New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop, journalist Matt Tibbie wrote that internal documents show that Twitter “took extraordinary steps to suppress the story, removing links and posting warnings that it was ‘unsafe.’ Maybe.”

“They also blocked its transmission via direct message, a tool once reserved for extreme cases, such as child pornography,” he tweeted.

Tayyibi said, “There is no evidence – that I have seen – of any government involvement in the laptop story.”

Internal discussions suggest that Twitter executives were confused over the decision to suppress the story, and at times disagreed with it. The next day, the officials went back on the decision and changes made his policy, Saying They will now “label tweets to provide context rather than prevent sharing of the link on Twitter.” Controversy over Twitter’s handling of the situation was widely reported at the time.

Taibbi also noted that Twitter sometimes receives requests from “connected actors” to remove Tweets, to which Twitter staff writes back, “handled.”

Taibbi wrote that the request came from “both sides”, meaning Republicans and Democrats.

How has Elon Musk responded?

Musk has been circulating the Twitter files to his group of online followers, and he has highlighted some of the findings as evidence that Twitter suppressed free speech.

For example, in response to Tibby’s tweet that “connected actors” reached out to Twitter to remove the tweets, Musk wrote, “If that’s not a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution, what is?”

However, as experts point out, the First Amendment protects people from government infringements on their right to free speech—it doesn’t compel private companies like Twitter to allow unregulated speech. This is why companies like Twitter, Facebook and other forums are able to enforce content standards and moderate the content that appears on their services.

After some Twitter users pointed out to Musk that, in fact, Taibi’s tweet did not appear to violate the First Amendment, Musk responded, “Twitter taking action to suppress free speech is not a First Amendment violation, But to act under orders from the government without any judicial review amounts to stifling free speech.”

However, the Twitter files do not appear to show that the government gave orders to Twitter – only that the company received “requests” from both sides and also consulted with the FBI and other agencies at various times.

react to twitter files

The most infamous response so far came from former Trump, who claimed internal documents suggest parts of the US Constitution Should be facing the “end”. His comments, made on his conservative social media platform Truth Social, were immediately condemned by Democrats, while some Republicans also criticized his comments.

On the other hand, former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wrote in a blog post that the Twitter files “show no ill intent or hidden agenda.” “All worked out according to the best information we had at the time,” he said.

Others say the Twitter files do not live up to the hype, and it is unclear whether some references have been omitted or overlooked.

For example, some leftist accounts have also been banned by Twitter, but the Twitter files released to date have not addressed the discussion or decision-making regarding those steps. The Atlantic called The Twitter Files “sloppy, anecdotal, devoid of context and thoroughly out-of-date news.”

As for their wider impact, this may be most apparent in the changes Musk has made to Twitter’s policies and content moderation practices. Despite his championing of “free speech”, Musk has allowed on the social media site, such as his announcement that Twitter Never reinstate conspiracy theorist Alex Jones,

Musk wrote of that decision, “I have no pity for anyone who would use the death of children for profit, politics, or fame.”

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