Inside the Twitter Files: What You Need to Know About ‘What You Need to Know’
The Mediaverse by Dennis Kneale, TruthDAO opinion columnist
"Inside the Twitter Files" is a special three-part Mediaverse series on how some in the news media have covered the release of internal conversations among Twitter employees and government officials related to the social network’s policies and decisions.
The media love to use Twitter to reach potentially millions more people than their own websites ever would attract, and by now one of their favorite come-ons is cliché:
“What you need to know.” Though, most times, their claim is untrue: rarely do you need to know these things, and sometimes the things cited can miss the real point. Missing the real point seems to be the media’s objective as they try to bury #TheTwitterFiles.
Elon Musk’s release of internal documents has made it clear Twitter executives were drunk with power and lefty bias as they silenced the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story a month before the 2020 election; and banned a U.S. president; and muted conservative accounts at the behest of the Democratic National Committee and the Biden campaign. And served a few Republicans sidling up for some censorship requests, as well.
Twitter staff did all of this and more—after meeting weekly and separately with agents from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence.
In the latest document drop, Twitter Files Part 6, it is clear the FBI turned Twitter into an obedient listening post for monitoring and muting even the smallest accounts that espoused views the government disliked. See Part One of this series.
Like a bad cop who keeps looking the other way, the media refused to cover this story for almost two weeks (see my Mediaverse column last week). Now, at long last, the media are speaking up—so they can try to kill it.
A few days ago, The Washington Post, CNN, NPR, the Economist and others began posting primers on the Twitter Files, telling us their version of what it all means.
Though they hadn’t covered it at all.
Here’s the eerie thing about it: their primers bear disturbing similarities in wording, thinking, takeaways, and efforts to gainsay this story. It is as if this outbreak of Group Think came from the same memo. To spot the parallels in the stories below, see the words in italics. Various outlets now are saying that:
-- this is an issue of “content moderation,” rather than what it really was: censorship.
-- Twitter staff struggled to strike a balance in a business that is “messy,” as stories in The Washington Post, CNN, and NPR put it.
-- there is nothing surprising or new here, we already know most of this. “Show’s over, folks, move along.”
In the Washington Post, an “analysis” (read: opinionated news story) by Will Oremus on Thursday calls the Twitter Files an "exercise in hypocrisy" and adds: “Whether you find Twitter files a bombshell or a ‘nothingburger’ probably depends on how much you already knew about the messy, often subjective work of online content moderation—and whether you were predisposed to see a political conspiracy at work in the documents.” So, it must be my fault.
On CNN.com, an “analysis” by business writer Claire Duffy is headlined: “The real revelation from the ‘Twitter Files’: Content moderationis messy.” She pontificates:
“In the absence of meaningful coordination or government oversight, a select few powerful tech platforms are left to make incredibly impactful and difficult decisions around content moderation—and, even when well intentioned, the people at these companies often struggle with how messy that process can be.”
Well intentioned? The Twitter Files are replete with ill intentions. Also: why is a CNN writer all but inviting “government oversight” of a free-speech platform?
In the Economist, we are told “What to Make of the Twitter Files”: “Perhaps the most important thing the Files do is demolish the notion that a centrally controlled entity can write down a set of rules to facilitate the control of a public digital space in which hundreds of millions of users send billions of messages a day.” A longwinded, British way of saying messy.
At CBSNews.com ("Twitter Files: What they are and why they matter”), writer Aimee Picchi reports that “Twitter executives were confused over, and sometimes didn’t agree with, the decision to suppress the story.” This leaves out that any disagreement was a rare exception. She says Twitter staff got censorship requests from “connected actors,” without citing Biden staff.
At super-liberal, government-supported NPR, correspondent Shannon Bond, who covers “how misleading narratives and false claims circulate online and offline,” took a slanted cut in her story posted on Dec. 14. Headline: “Elon Musk is using the Twitter Files to discredit foes and push conspiracy theories.” Which is quite the mouthful.
The NPR writer posits that “many tech journalists, social media experts and former Twitter employees say Musk’s claims are over-hyped,” and that the documents “largely corroborate what is already known about the messy business of policing a large social network.”
So, move along.
She quotes Renée DiResta, a research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, saying, “What is really coming through… for me is: people who are confronting high-stakes, unanticipated events and trying to figure out what policies apply and how.” How noble.
Then at 6:30 a.m. the next morning, Dec. 15, the same Renée DiResta published a column online in the Atlantic, a platform even more jubilantly liberal than NPR: “The Twitter Files Are a Missed Opportunity.”
She writes: “Depending on your perspective, you might conclude that suspending Trump was an essential safety measure, a big scandal, or utterly inconsequential.” Inconsequential? That is a foolish thing to say.
Elsewhere, in an op ed for Politico.com, Joan Donovan of the Harvard Kennedy School says the Twitter Files “are a desperate attempt to legitimize a well-worn conservative narrative” about the Hunter Biden laptop. She contends “the details of the ‘Twitter Files’ do not seem to hold new revelations,” but they are “demonizing” Twitter’s now-fired censors, who are “in the crosshairs, quite literally.” Yoel Roth has “fled his home amid death threats.”
Donovan, like so many others in the media, worries more about Twitter’s now-fired chief censor than she does about the Constitution.
Dennis Kneale, @denniskneale on Twitter, is a media strategist and writer in New York. He spent more than 30 years at The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNBC, and Fox Business. His podcast is called "What's Bugging Me."
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Coming up: Part Three. How an inaccurate claim in defense of Twitter spread to 200 websites.
Read Part One – Inside the Twitter Files: More Media Ignorance (Dec. 18, 2022)
Elon Musk is the Media’s new Public Enemy No. 1 (Nov. 6, 2022)
The Media Are Yawning at the Twitter Files (Dec. 9, 2022)