Putting the “Twitter Files” in Perspective (Part One)

The latest in an ongoing battle to control the narrative about democracy in America

Micah Sifry


Elon Musk storming the capitol on January 6th 2021 with Proud Boys (made with stable diffusion)

If you are a “very online person” or even just a somewhat online person, you’ve probably heard something about “The Twitter Files” in the last ten days or so. I tried to stay away, I really did. But while there’s very little to the stories tweet-threads that have been published by Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss and Michael Shellenberger based on their reading of internal company files handed to them by Elon Musk, Twitter’s new owner, the controversy is unfortunately unavoidable. What follows is my best effort at putting it in context.

First, here’s what I think you need to know so far about the so-called “Twitter Files” themselves, which, to date, amount to five installments.

Installment one: Back in October 2020, Twitter executives decided to block the spread of a story about Hunter Biden’s purloined laptop that had appeared in the NY Post. There were lots of reasons to handle the laptop story with kid gloves — foreign powers had previously disrupted the 2016 election with hacked material, other news organizations including the Wall Street Journal and Fox News had passed on the opportunity to get an exclusive on the laptop story, and reporters at the NY Post had refused to put their bylines on what was published. Still, Twitter over-reacted (locking the account of a White House staffer who had shared the link, among other things) and corrected its mistake in a day, something its CEO Jack Dorsey later explained quite openly in congressional testimony. But Taibbi’s thread made no mention of these facts, and instead hyped the episode as proof that the company was biased toward the left in its political content moderation decisions, touting examples of company executives blocking tweets at the express request of the Biden campaign team. That some of what Twitter blocked was actually the non-consensual sharing of pictures pulled off the laptop of Hunter Biden’s penis was also not mentioned by Taibbi. I suppose we could call him an unreliable narrator.

Second in the unreliable narrator department comes Bari Weiss, the former New York Times columnist who these days runs a popular Substack devoted to attacking the left for various…