Musk: The government paid Twitter's previous owners millions to censor Twitter -- and it won't happen again

Britta Pedersen/Pool via AP

Fact check: Apparently true on the first, and a healthy “we’ll see” on the second. Whatever else Elon Musk may have had in mind for Twitter, his concerns over censorship have clearly remained paramount since taking ownership. He re-upped Part 7 of the Twitter Files just to emphasize that issue, and what Twitter’s internal records show:

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I missed this follow-the-money aspect yesterday in the deluge of evidence of FBI attempts to curate and censor political debate and dissent. Techno Fog made sure to emphasize it, however:

Then we have one of the more remarkable pieces of information to be released from the Twitter: confirmation that Twitter was paid nearly $3.5 million for assisting the FBI with its processing requests.

Remarkable. Twitter was essentially contracted by the FBI, to the tune of millions of dollars, to report on users and remove non-criminal content the FBI found objectionable. One can’t help but think the money was effective in getting Twitter, and likely other social media companies, to do what the FBI wanted. After all, who can say no to a paying client with that much leverage?

Indeed. Not only did the FBI use this to suppress an accurate story unfavorable to a candidate in a presidential campaign, they literally hired Twitter to conduct censorship on their behalf. And previous Twitter ownership enthusiastically participated in this partnership, likely because the “reimbursement” for their deputization as Big Brother partners helped ease the losses that Twitter suffered for years. And one has to wonder whether Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg and Google and its ownership had similar transactional relationships related to FBI’s censorship programs.

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Musk says yes:

Still, Musk’s second statement rates a “we’ll see.” Yes, he’s clearly aiming at exposing this kind of corruption rather than profiting off of it now. After a couple of years of losses, that calculus could change. The one lesson we all should have learned is that we can’t trust Big Tech leadership with having any instincts for defending its customers against speech intrusions. “We’ll see” is the best anyone should do for a while.

That is at least more than we can say for trust in the mainstream media outlets that have studiously avoided reporting of any depth on the Twitter Files. That may be in part because Part 7 specifically implicates two major news outlets, the Washington Post and the New York Times, and partly because they perceive their progressive audience as preferring a “reactionary Musk” narrative rather than reporting on government misconduct.

Well, if that’s the case, then give credit where credit is due. The venerable progressive publication The Nation chose to inform its audience today by arguing that Musk may be reactionary, but that doesn’t negate the importance of what he’s exposing:

The Twitter Files, however, do matter. They matter because Twitter has become the de facto public square for a fourth or so of America—and for the many influential politicians, journalists, pundits, and celebrities who continue to populate the platform. Twitter has the power, as was revealed in 2020, to determine how far news travels. The files showed how Twitter deliberated over banning certain accounts (Donald Trump’s being the biggest) and ultimately suppressed—through the removal of links and even the blocking of direct messages—reporting by the New York Post on Hunter Biden’s stolen laptop, which turned out to be a valid news story, in the sense that the younger Biden’s laptop was real and so were all of its contents. Most liberals did not care, because it was October 2020 and the defeat of Trump mattered more than any commitment to free speech principles; the locking of the account of a daily newspaper in New York City for weeks on end simply did not register as a crisis with a vital election looming. The reasoning was autocratic: For the greater good, a few must suffer, especially if their views are undesirable. (The Twitter Files held other smaller, if notable, revelations, including that the Stanford epidemiologist Jay Bhattacharya was placed on an internal backlist, his tweets artificially suppressed, because he was a critic of Covid-19 lockdowns.)

It is simply not enough to say Twitter is a private company and it can do what it wants. As the progressive California congressman Ro Khanna pointed out, this is the kind of answer that gets you an A on a high school exam but fails to account for the obligation a private entity of enormous consequence has to the public. Public discourse occurs on private platforms, but these platforms—in their scale and reach—behave like public utilities. The telephone company can’t stop a neo-Nazi from ever placing a phone call. Con Edison can’t shut off a Proud Boy’s electricity if he’s still paying his bills. …

Corporate power over speech arguably matters just as much as the governmental regulation of speech; the former cannot be simply waved away as a private matter. Freedom of speech is not absolute, and there are reasonable regulations related to criminality, as well as mores restricting bullying and harassment. The question, as always, is how far these regulations should go when applied to what is now the privately controlled digital public square. Twitter, Facebook, Google, and TikTok are not like the newspapers of old, where editors decided daily what was fit for print. They are much more all-encompassing.

As the Twitter Files show, both the Biden campaign and the Trump administration took aggressive steps to control the flow of information, as did the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, which have behaved similarly under both presidents.

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The shameful silence of the “hold power accountable” industry does have a few exceptions, and The Nation is the most notable so far of these. It’s beyond laughable that they are highlighting suspensions of a handful of reporters and completely overlooking the significance of federal law enforcement agencies paying social media platforms to suppress actual and accurate news stories. That’s one big reason the Twitter Files matter, too — and why MSM doesn’t even rate a “we’ll see” in terms of public trust.

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John Stossel 5:30 PM | July 13, 2024
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