Wednesday, December 07, 2022

The Twitter Drop Was An Orchestrated Subjective Disclosure

NYTimes |  It was, on the surface, a typical example of reporting the news: a journalist obtains internal documents from a major corporation, shedding light on a political dispute that flared in the waning days of the 2020 presidential race.

But when it comes to Elon Musk and Twitter, nothing is typical.

The so-called Twitter Files, released Friday evening by the independent journalist Matt Taibbi, set off a firestorm among pundits, media ethicists and lawmakers in both parties. It also offered a window into the fractured modern landscape of news, where a story’s reception is often shaped by readers’ assumptions about the motivations of both reporters and subjects.

The tempest began when Mr. Musk teased the release of internal documents that he said would reveal the story behind Twitter’s 2020 decision to restrict posts linking to a report in the New York Post about Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son, Hunter.

Mr. Musk, who has accused tech companies of censorship, then pointed readers to the account of Mr. Taibbi, an iconoclast journalist who shares some of Mr. Musk’s disdain for the mainstream news media. Published in the form of a lengthy Twitter thread, Mr. Taibbi’s report included images of email exchanges among Twitter officials deliberating how to handle dissemination of the Post story on their platform.

Mr. Musk and Mr. Taibbi framed the exchanges as evidence of rank censorship and pernicious influence by liberals. Many others — even some ardent Twitter critics — were less impressed, saying the exchanges merely showed a group of executives earnestly debating how to deal with an unconfirmed news report that was based on information from a stolen laptop.

And as with many modern news stories, the Twitter Files were quickly weaponized in service of a dizzying number of pre-existing arguments.

The Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who often accuses liberals of stifling speech, made the claim that the “documents show a systemic violation of the First Amendment, the largest example of that in modern history.” House Republicans, who have called for an investigation into the business dealings of Hunter Biden, asserted with no evidence that the report showed systemic collusion between Twitter and aides to Joe Biden, who was then the Democratic nominee. (Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive at the time, later reversed the decision to block the Post story and told Congress it had been a mistake.)

Former Twitter executives, who have lamented Mr. Musk’s chaotic stewardship of the company, cited the documents’ release as yet another sign of recklessness. Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, said that publicizing unredacted documents — some of which included the names and email addresses of Twitter officials — was “a fundamentally unacceptable thing to do” and placed people “in harm’s way.”

 

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