In yet another explosive Twitter files leaks, Jack Dorsey was not aware or literally was being bypassed by Vijaya Gadde to suppress and suspend accounts.
On October 14, 2020, the New York Post published BIDEN SECRET EMAILS, an expose based on the contents of Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop.
Twitter took extraordinary steps to suppress the story, removing links and posting warnings that it may be “unsafe.” They even blocked its transmission via direct message, a tool hitherto reserved for extreme cases, e.g. child pornography.
White House spokeswoman Kaleigh McEnany was locked out of her account for tweeting about the story, prompting a furious letter from Trump campaign staffer Mike Hahn, who seethed: “At least pretend to care for the next 20.
This led public policy executive Caroline Strom to send out a polite WTF query. Several employees noted that there was tension between the comms/policy teams, who had little/less control over moderation, and the safety/trust teams.
Strom’s note returned the answer that the laptop story had been removed for violation of the company’s “hacked materials” policy.
Although several sources recalled hearing about a “general” warning from federal law enforcement that summer about possible foreign hacks, there’s no evidence – that I’ve seen – of any government involvement in the laptop story. In fact, that might have been the problem.
The decision was 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.
“They just freelanced it,” is how one former employee characterized the decision. “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.
You can see the confusion in the following lengthy exchange, which ends up including Gadde and former Trust and safety chief Yoel Roth. Comms official Trenton Kennedy writes, “I’m struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe”
By this point “everyone knew this was fucked,” said one former employee, but the response was essentially to err on the side of… continuing to err.
Former VP of Global Comms Brandon Borrman asks, “Can we truthfully claim that this is part of the policy?
To which former Deputy General Counsel Jim Baker again seems to advise staying the non-course, because “caution is warranted”
A fundamental problem with tech companies and content moderation: many people in charge of speech know/care little about speech, and have to be told the basics by outsiders. To wit:
In one humorous exchange on day 1, Democratic congressman Ro Khanna reaches out to Gadde to gently suggest she hop on the phone to talk about the “backlash re speech.” Khanna was the only Democratic official I could find in the files who expressed concern.
Gadde replies quickly, immediately diving into the weeds of Twitter policy, unaware Khanna is more worried about the Bill of Rights.
Khanna tries to reroute the conversation to the First Amendment, mention of which is generally hard to find in the files.
Within a day, head of Public Policy Lauren Culbertson receives a ghastly letter/report from Carl Szabo of the research firm NetChoice, which had already polled 12 members of congress – 9 Rs and 3 Democrats, from “the House Judiciary Committee to Rep. Judy Chu’s office.
READ MORE: Dark Side Of Twitter Impersonation
NetChoice lets Twitter know a “blood bath” awaits in upcoming Hill hearings, with members saying it’s a “tipping point,” complaining tech has “grown so big that they can’t even regulate themselves, so government may need to intervene.
Szabo reports to Twitter that some Hill figures are characterizing the laptop story as “tech’s Access Hollywood moment”.
Twitter files continued: “THE FIRST AMENDMENT ISN’T ABSOLUTE” Szabo’s letter contains chilling passages relaying Democratic lawmakers’ attitudes. They want “more” moderation, and as for the Bill of Rights, it’s “not absolute.
An amazing subplot of the Twitter/Hunter Biden laptop affair was how much was done without the knowledge of CEO Jack Dorsey, and how long it took for the situation to get “unfucked” (as one ex-employee put it) even after Dorsey jumped in.