Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter last October and the subsequent reporting on the Twitter Files by journalists Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss, and a handful of others beginning in early December is one of the most important news stories of our time. The Twitter Files story encompasses, and to a large extent connects, every major political scandal of the Trump-Biden era. Put simply, the Twitter Files reveal an unholy alliance between Big Tech and the deep state designed to throttle free speech and maintain an official narrative through censorship and propaganda. This should not just disturb us, it should also prod us to action in defense of the First Amendment, free and fair elections, and indeed our country.
After Musk completed his acquisition of Twitter, he fired a slew of useless or insubordinate employees, instituted new content moderation policies, and tried to reform a woke corporate culture that bordered (and still borders) on parody. In the process, Musk coordinated with Taibbi and Weiss on the publication of a series of stories based on internal Twitter documents related to an array of major political events going back years: the Hunter Biden laptop scandal, Twitter’s secret policy of shadow banning, President Trump’s suspension from Twitter after the January 6 U.S. Capitol riot, the co-opting of Twitter by the FBI to suppress “election disinformation” ahead of the 2020 election, Twitter’s involvement in a Pentagon overseas psy-op campaign, its silencing of dissent from the official Covid narrative, its complicity in the Russiagate hoax, and its gradual capitulation to the direct involvement of the U.S. intelligence community—with the FBI as a go-between—in content moderation.
As Taibbi has written, the Twitter Files “show the FBI acting as doorman to a vast program of social media surveillance and censorship, encompassing agencies across the federal government—from the State Department to the Pentagon to the CIA.”
The Twitter Files contain multitudes, but for the sake of brevity let us consider just three installments and their related implications: the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story, the suspension of Trump, and the deputization of Twitter by the FBI. Together, these stories reveal not just a social media company willing to do the bidding of an out-of-control federal bureaucracy, but a federal bureaucracy openly hostile to the First Amendment.
Hunter Biden’s Laptop
On October 14, 2020, the New York Post published its first major exposé based on the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, which had been dropped off at a Delaware computer repair shop in April 2019 and never picked up. It was the first of several stories detailing Biden family corruption and revealing the close involvement of Joe Biden in his son’s foreign business ventures in the years during and after Biden’s vice presidency. Hunter, although doing no real work, was making tens of millions of dollars from foreign companies in places like Ukraine and China. The Post’s bombshell reporting shined a bright light on what was happening.
According to the emails on the laptop, Hunter introduced then-Vice President Biden to a top executive at Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that was paying Hunter (who had no credentials or experience in the energy business) up to $50,000 a month to sit on its board. Soon after this meeting, Vice President Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to fire a prosecutor investigating the company. In an earlier email, a top Burisma executive asked Hunter for “advice on how you could use your influence” to benefit the company. The Post’s ensuing stories revealed more of the same: a shocking level of corruption and influence-peddling by Hunter Biden, whose emails suggest his father was closely connected to his overseas business ventures. Indeed, those ventures appear to consist entirely of Hunter providing access to Joe Biden.
Twitter did everything in its power to suppress the Biden story. It removed links to the Post’s reporting, appended warnings that they might be “unsafe,” and prevented users from sharing them via direct message—a restriction previously reserved for child pornography and other extreme cases. In an extraordinary step, Twitter also locked the Post’s account and the accounts of anyone who shared links to its reporting, including White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. These actions were justified under the pretext that the stories violated Twitter’s hacked-materials policy, even though there was no evidence, then or now, that anything on the laptop was hacked.
Twitter executives at the highest levels were directly involved in these decisions. Former head of Legal, Policy, and Trust Vijaya Gadde, the company’s chief censor, played a key role, as did former head of Trust and Safety Yoel Roth. Oddly, all this seems to have been done without the knowledge of Twitter’s then-CEO Jack Dorsey. And it was done despite internal pushback from other departments.
“I’m struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe,” wrote a Twitter communications executive in an email to Gadde and Roth. “Can we truthfully claim that this is part of the policy?” asked former VP of Global Communications Brandon Borman. His question was answered by Deputy General Counsel Jim Baker—a former top lawyer for the FBI and the most powerful member of a growing cadre of former FBI employees working at Twitter—who said that “caution is warranted” and that some facts “indicate the materials may have been hacked.”
But there were no such facts, as Baker and other top Twitter executives knew at the time. The laptop was exactly what the Post said it was, and every fact the Post reported was accurate. Other major media outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post would begrudgingly admit as much 18 months later, after Joe Biden was ensconced in the White House.
If there were no hacked materials in the Post’s reporting, why did Twitter immediately react as if there were? Because long before the Post published its first laptop story, there had been an organized effort by the intelligence community to discredit leaked information about Hunter Biden. The laptop, after all, had been in federal custody since the previous December, when the FBI seized it from the computer repair shop. So the FBI knew very well that it contained evidence of straightforward criminal activity (such as illicit drug use) as well as of corruption and influence-peddling.
The evening before the Post ran its first story on the laptop, FBI Special Agent Elvis Chan sent ten documents to Roth at Twitter through a special one-way communications channel the FBI had established with the company. For months, the FBI and other federal intelligence agencies had been priming Roth to dismiss news reports about Hunter Biden ahead of the 2020 election as “hack-and-leak” operations by state actors. They had done the same thing with Facebook, whose CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted as much to Joe Rogan in an August 2022 podcast. As Michael Shellenberger reported in the seventh installment of the Twitter Files, the FBI repeatedly asked Roth and others at Twitter about foreign influence operations on the platform and were repeatedly told there were none of any significance. The FBI also routinely pressured Twitter to hand over data outside the normal search warrant process, which Twitter at first resisted.
In July 2020, Chan arranged for Twitter executives to get top secret security clearances so the FBI could share intelligence about possible threats to the upcoming presidential election. The next month, Chan sent Roth information about a Russian hacking group called APT28. Roth later said that when the Post’s story about Hunter Biden’s laptop broke, “It set off every single one of my finely tuned APT28 hack-and-leak campaign alarm bells.” Even though there was never any evidence that anything on the laptop was hacked, Roth reacted to it just as the FBI had conditioned him to do, using the company’s hacked-materials policy to suppress the story as soon as it appeared, just as the agency suggested it would, less than a month before the election.