Breaking! Just in! Extra! Extra! Read all about it! But only on Twitter, “journalists’ primary base of operations,” of course.
The so-called “Twitter Files,” or in typographical parlance, #TwitterFiles, which inconveniently debuted just after happy hour on a Friday night, finally shed light on the birdsite’s blocking of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop reporting. Veteran muckraker Matt Taibbi was gifted the dirty deets by the new aviary owner Elon Musk. (Matt must have been a really good boy this year!) So Taibbi, as millions of families attended Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, threaded through one of the most consequential political decisions of the last presidential election.
As for those numerous Noël enjoyers not glued to their phones—surely they missed the scoop of the year, right? This was an outing of corruption within one of the most powerful social media companies that may or may not have swung a battle over the Oval. Who would choose flickery C7s and watered-down Swiss Miss over this Pulitzer-level reporting?
Sane, everyday people who haven’t had their brain scrambled in social media’s attention blender. That’s who. Like most hyped-up “BREAKING, look here now, you just gotta see it!” all-caps scoopfuls these days, the Twitter Files was a big, tasteless nothingburger. The Impossible Whopper tastes like prime rib, with a starchy side of Pentagon Papers, by contrast.
The disclosure in a nutshell: Twitter is run by leftie activist types. News at 11. That’s why the exposed business logs of then-candidate Biden’s son were suppressed. Twitter execs, with promptings from Biden campaign hands, made a nakedly political move to shield the Democratic contender from public scrutiny. That’s it. And unless you’re the kind of mush-brained naif who takes corporate-neutral speak at face value, you deduced as much shortly after the Post’s blackballing.
But now we have full-blown proof, if such a thing matters any more.
The saga that led up to Twitter’s fateful decision to intervene in an election—on behalf of the preferred candidate of 98% of staff—is something out of Hollywood’s Golden Age. A small, nimble band of free thinkers create something that attracts worldwide use. Popularity accumulates power. Money attracts interest. Their creation is soon assimilated by the powers that be, and wielded for elite benefit. It’s an Acton script, through and through.
Twitter, having massed into one large journo crowdsource, was inundated with takedown requests in the runup to the 2020 election. Both campaigns, and maybe even that dull, forgettable run by what’s her name of the Libertarian Party, tried to work the Twitter refs. Needless to say, only one campaign succeeded in getting a scandalous, and possibly ruinous, story treated as the equivalent of unshareable pedophilic erotica. (I leave the “D” party joke for a bawdier publication.) Team Biden accused the laptop leaks of being a dastardly Russian plot to interfere in American democracy—DNC email leaks redux. That was a baseless lie, but a workable excuse for a blackout.
But who, in the end, dunnit?
The call to block the URL linking to the Post’s laptop reporting was, in Taibbi’s words, “made at the highest levels of the company, but without the knowledge of CEO Jack Dorsey, with former head of legal, policy and trust Vijaya Gadde playing a key role.” That CBD poster-child Dorsey was reportedly taken unawares by the block isn’t surprising. He was probably off dropping acid in Myanmar. That a high-level lackey with the title “Chief Legal Officer (Legal, Public Policy and Trust & Safety)” was instrumental in the link arrest also isn’t a shock. What does a guy with that mouthful on his 3.5″x2″ supposed to do other than hall-monitor “harmful” content on the internet?
Once the decision was made by the c-suite to bury the story, nobody had the courage to unearth it. The move assumed its own unstoppable momentum. Taibbi quotes a former Twitter underling: “Hacking was the excuse, but within a few hours, pretty much everyone realized that wasn’t going to hold. But no one had the guts to reverse it.”
Many members of the top Twitter brass questioned the prudence of the prohibition, but none dared assume the helm and change course. “Can we truthfully claim that this is part of the policy?” asked comms VP Brandon Borrman at one point. Then, in a twist worthy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we got a surprise cameo appearance: Jim Baker! The former FBI snooper was responsible for infamously obtaining the erroneously concocted FISA warrant that kickstarted Russiagate. Baker, then Twitter’s Deputy General Counsel, thwarted any reversals by urging “caution” and falsely suggesting the compromising material “may have been hacked.”
A hack crying hack to hack apart a political opponent. How can this epic get any more poetic? By cranking up the dramatic irony, that’s how. In the Twitter Files sequel published by Bari Weiss, the backend of the platform’s “shadowbanning” functionality was unveiled. Right-wing personalities were naturally on the receiving end of most of the muting. Now Musk confirmed political candidates were also muffled in media res of campaigning.
Conservatives active on social media (sounds like an oxymoron, no?) have long suspected manipulative machinations behind the scene throttling their reach. Such censorship was long denied, even by Dorsey. Now we have incontrovertible evidence that higher-ups did stifle dissent from the liberal norm. Rod Dreher’s law merited impossibility is fulfilled: no, idiot, Twitter doesn’t shadowban, and if it did, you’d deserve it, you COVID-denying, election-skeptical, Christian-nationalist bigot!
With Twitter’s dirty laundry finally aired, and more soiled garments forthcoming, shouldn’t the right take a victory lap? All of its put-upon ravings have been vindicated. Clearly the next step is for God Himself to banish the demoniac blue bird to Hell, right? The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether! Condemn the liars who defended a glorified message board! Strike down Twitter HQ like the Tower of Babel, scattering the digital degens to the winds!
Except not. Despite its hype, nobody cares for the actual contents of the Twitter Files. The findings were long assumed, and either supported or opposed based on political preference. No investigatory ground was broken, no startling revelations were made.
But the behind-the-curtain reporting hasn’t been all for naught. What the Twitter Files reveal isn’t so much a massive conspiracy afoot, but rather the dangers of human complacency. A few key players made a monumental decision that, upon realizing its underlying logic was flawed, couldn’t bring themselves to fess up and reverse it. The measure, and its attendant repercussions, was accepted as inevitable—a Whiggish movement of history. The entire incident could have been rectified with just a few clicks and enough will. Yet nobody had the wherewithal to snap the groupthink posture. Twitter’s executive level was comprised of what the poet James Reeves called “impudent masters of decision.”
Inertia extracts a price. The perception of Twitter political bias attracted the attention and money of the world’s richest man, who, on a lark, blew a few billion acquiring the operation just to clean house, Bain Capital-style. Whether Musk can make fiscal good on his investment isn’t clear, but it’s also not clear he’s doing it for profit or just the LOLs.
Elon Musk is driven just as much by caprices and pathos as the Twitter heads he sacked. That our country’s highest echelons of power are occupied by emotionally racked people is kind of a comfort. We aren’t lorded over by abstract, reinless corporations, but by flawed and indecisive man-children.
In other words, normal people. Just like you and me.