Yet again, Elon Musk turned Twitter into a spectacle on Friday evening, promising to air the company’s dirty laundry about “what really happened with the Hunter Biden story suppression.” But after the announcement left thousands of users on the edge of their seats as they waited hours for what Musk promised would be an “awesome” revelation, the leak turned out not to be quite the bombshell the new Twitter czar had hyped.
Nearly two hours after his promised drop time, the touted bombshell came in the form of a lengthy Twitter thread by journalist Matt Taibbi, who prior to posting, noted on his Substack that he had to “agree to certain conditions” in order to cover the “explosive story.”
He did not say what those conditions were.
The thread, which Taibbi dubbed the “Twitter files,” began its focus on the “Biden team” and the DNC, which he claimed—along with screenshots ripped from a Twitter Gmail account—was proof that Democrats were teaming up to suppress free speech with Twitter employees.
As the most glaring example of this, Taibbi held up the example of the Hunter Biden laptop story by The New York Post, which was restricted on the platform over concerns about its sourcing amid warnings from federal authorities about possible disinformation campaigns ahead of the 2020 election.
Taibbi suggested the story was unfairly restricted, sharing screenshots purporting to show executives at odds over whether the story should be marked unsafe in keeping with Twitter’s policy against “hacked materials.”
Rather than revealing any kind of secret plot to quash the report, however, the screenshots shared by Taibbi appeared to focus more on internal tensions within the company over the decision.
“Can we truthfully claim that this is part of the policy?” asked former Vice President of Twitter’s global communications team, Brandon Borrman, in one email.
Twitter’s deputy general counsel, Jim Baker, shot back that “caution is warranted” because it wasn’t clear whether materials mentioned in the story were obtained by hacking or not.
Taibbi then shared a volley of emails between Congressman Ro Khanna and the former chief legal officer of Twitter, Vijaya Gadde. Instead of exposing any nefarious Democratic plot to suppress the story, the emails actually showed at least one Democrat urging Twitter to allow it on the platform.
The California Democrat asked Gadde to consider whether restricting access to the New York Post’s article was infringing on “first amendment principles.”
“If there is a hack of classified information or other information that could expose a serious war crime and the NYT was to publish it, I think the NYT should have that right,” Khanna wrote. “... So to restrict the distribution of that material, especially regarding a Presidential candidate, seems not in keeping of the principles of NYT v Sullivan.”
Taibbi also claimed then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had been kept largely in the dark on the situation until it had already blown up into a major controversy.
The Friday night drop was an opportune time for Musk. Attention throughout the day had focused on Musk’s former free speech ally Kanye West (now known as Ye), whom Musk was forced to suspend from the platform after he tweeted an image containing a swastika.
The laptop became a major source of intrigue prior to the 2020 election, as scrutiny over Hunter Biden’s foreign business activities intensified. The leaked contents of the device allegedly contained huge volumes of data related to the president’s son, including text messages and photographs demonstrating his struggles with substance abuse.
Initially, before the election, media outlets in possession of the information were unable to immediately confirm its veracity. Multiple social media platforms—concerned that they would be accused of facilitating misinformation or foreign political interference, much like they were after the 2016 election—suppressed stories about the laptop during the presidential race.
In an appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast this summer, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that the company had done exactly that.
“The FBI came to us, some folks on our team, and was like ‘Hey, just so you know, you should be on high alert [about potential Russian propaganda],’” he said.
Yoel Roth, who until last month was head of trust and safety at Twitter, argued in an interview this week that suppressing the laptop story on the platform was a mistake.
At the time, he said, the decision was made over concerns about the laptop’s authenticity and whether the story had been drummed up by a foreign power. The situation “set off every single one of my finely tuned [Russian cyber espionage] hack and leak campaign alarm bells. Everything about it looked like a hack and leak,” he added.
Still, Roth claimed, even before the election he was not “comfortable” with the choice to remove tweets about the topic.
The facts have more recently come into clearer focus. In a report published last month, experts consulted by CBS News said a copy of the device’s contents appeared to be authentic.
CBS noted that the files also offered insight into Hunter Biden’s work “in Ukraine and with China,” though they did not prove that “President Biden benefited from his son’s business dealings.”
The heat is building on the younger Biden. The Washington Post reported in October that federal investigators had amassed substantial evidence that could potentially lead to charges for “tax crimes and a false statement related to a gun purchase.” In a statement to The Post, a lawyer for Biden blasted authorities for allegedly leaking details about the inquiry.
“As is proper and legally required, we believe the prosecutors in this case are diligently and thoroughly weighing not just evidence provided by agents, but also all the other witnesses in this case, including witnesses for the defense,” he said.