Elon Musk is stoking controversy on a new front, this time revealing sensitive internal deliberations at Twitter around Hunter Biden’s personal computer files in the fall of 2020.
On Friday evening, Twitter’s new owner promoted a leak of documents on his personal account, just the latest sign that the tech billionaire continues to steer the platform in a direction more favorable to conservatives and libertarians. Ahead of the midterm elections, Musk urged his followers to vote Republican. Last month, he reinstated former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account after taking an informal online poll.
The internal company discussions, which predate Musk’s ownership, offer insight on the dissent and confusion inside Twitter as it responded to the New York Post’s reporting on Hunter Biden’s files in the closing weeks of the last presidential campaign.
POLITICO has not independently verified the communications, which were given to Substack writer Matt Taibbi, a longtime critic of online censorship and mainstream media outlets. Taibbi unspooled portions of the leak in a lengthy Twitter thread on Friday night.
Musk teased the event hours before it began to spill out in Taibbi’s tweets, promising, “This will be awesome,” and suggested he was personally involved in its preparation.
“We’re double-checking some facts, so probably start live tweeting in about 40 mins,” Musk tweeted as users waited for the promised disclosures. His latest controversial move came before the dust had settled from his last one, which saw Musk block Ye’s account after the rapper tweeted, “I like Hitler.”
Within the current contours of the culture wars, the right has taken up the mantle of free speech, while the center and left have cited concerns about disinformation and hate speech to argue for greater limits in online expression. Since taking the reins of Twitter in October, Musk has endeared himself to the right and incensed the left with his laissez-faire approach to moderation.
Last week, the mogul hinted that he would release information about Twitter’s role in suppressing the New York Post’s reports, tweeting, “This is necessary to restore public trust.”
Hunter Biden’s leaked computer files — which shed light on his chaotic personal life and overseas business dealing — as well as Twitter’s handling of the leak have been the subjects of ongoing controversy for the past two years.
Twitter initially blocked links to the New York Post’s reporting, going so far as to prevent users from sharing them in private messages, initially citing its policy on hacked and stolen materials, but reversed itself days later.
When the Post refused to delete a tweet about the story, Twitter suspended the outlet’s account for more than two weeks, before reversing the suspension on October 30, 2020, long after it had lifted other restrictions on the story.
In the aftermath, Twitter’s then-CEO, Jack Dorsey, said he regretted the platform’s decision to censor the story.
At a debate following the Post’s initial publication, then-candidate Joe Biden called the reporting a “Russian plant,” citing a letter by former intelligence officials saying the disclosure “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”
Trump’s then-director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, said there was no evidence indicating the stories were the result of a Russian disinformation campaign.
In a post-campaign interview with ABC News, Hunter Biden said he did not know whether equipment was his, but that it “certainly” could have been.
In the two years since the New York Post stories, journalists relying on both traditional reporting techniques and technical analyses have verified large parts of the cache, though it remains possible that forged or doctored material has been inserted into it.
A September 2021 book by a POLITICO reporter concluded that the cache of files was “at least largely genuine.”
In March, the New York Times reported that emails from the cache related to Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings had been authenticated by people familiar with them. Later that month, the Washington Post reported that two computer security experts it commissioned to examine the files concluded that 22,000 emails contained in the cache were authentic.
CBS News reported last month that a forensic analysis it had commissioned of the files found no evidence of tampering.
Hunter Biden remains the subject of a Justice Department criminal investigation that has focused on his tax affairs. He has denied wrongdoing.