The release of internal Twitter communications by Elon Musk, the company’s new owner and CEO, has sparked intense scrutiny of the FBI’s efforts alongside social media firms in the lead-up to the 2020 election to block foreign disinformation.
The controversy relates to Twitter’s decision in October 2020 to stop users from sharing a New York Post article featuring material from a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden. Conservative critics have suggested that the released documents, known as the “Twitter Files,” demonstrate that Twitter prevented the story from being shared at the request of the FBI.
Musk himself has claimed the communications show government censorship, stating that Twitter acted “under orders from the government” when it blocked the Hunter Biden laptop news.
However, the released messages do not provide any evidence that the FBI requested Twitter to suppress the story. In fact, sworn testimony from an FBI officer at the centre of the controversy has indicated the opposite.
Elon Musk and his conservative associates have insinuated that the released messages indicated illegal activity by the FBI, such as the transfer of Hunter Biden’s confidential files and unlawful payments to Twitter. Nevertheless, CNN interviews of individuals involved with the communications and those who have seen the documents have not supported those assertions.
Matt Taibbi, one of the reporters Musk contacted in December to examine Twitter’s internal messages for indications of infringement on free speech, said on December 2 that “there is no evidence – that I’ve seen – of any government involvement in the laptop story.”
What can be established is that, following the Russian interference in 2016 and numerous conversations with federal agents on how to identify and counter foreign attempts to spread false information, Twitter’s executives were especially cautious of anything that resembled foreign influence and were ready to act without instruction from the government.