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The Twitter censorship files: ‘China would be proud’


IT’S the story of the year, it’s unfolding entirely in public view, anyone could milk it – and only Fox is covering it. Twitter CEO Elon Musk passed a horde of internal emails to freelance journalist Matt Taibbi, documenting the platform’s extraordinary efforts to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story, and Taibbi returned the favour by publishing the best bits on Twitter. Tucker Carlson jumped on it. The rest of the mainstream media ignored it.

The deepest insight came from Carlson’s Fox colleague Laura Ingram. Commenting on Twitter’s blocking of the Biden laptop story even in private direct messages between individual users, she ad-libbed ‘China would be proud’.

Indeed they would. Like the Chinese government censoring WeChat messages, the political activists at Twitter weren’t content to prevent the public dissemination of information they found threatening. They used tools that had been developed for the suppression of child pornography to purge the Biden laptop story from their platform. As far as we know, the rest of Big Tech followed suit.

No doubt the Washington Post will validate the Twitter election interference story in time for the 2026 midterms. As they say on their masthead, ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness’ – eventually. In the meantime, we have to rely on a patriotic immigrant billionaire to keep the torch of democracy lit.

Of course, ‘we all knew’ that Big Tech was suppressing any news that might be seen as favourable to Donald Trump in the run-up to the 2020 election … if by ‘we all’ we mean right-wing conspiracy theorist nutjob QAnon insurrectionists. Everyone else may have vaguely felt that something was up, but all for a good cause. Podcasters who tried to pursue Big Tech found themselves deplatformed. The few academics who pointed out the immorality of lying for the (self-perceived) common good were thoroughly marginalised (believe me).

Thanks to Musk, and one might surmise ‘thanks to the threats directed at Musk’, we’re getting a peek into the establishment’s propaganda machine. Would Musk have released the smoking gun documents if the global Western political establishment hadn’t threatened to close down his $44billion investment? We may never know.

We do know that Apple quietly withdrew its threat to pull Twitter from its App Store a few hours before the Twitter Files were published. The European Union’s Commissioner for Digital Policy, Thierry Bretondialed, announced a concordat with Musk, and it’s hard to believe that US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will follow through with a foreign influence investigation of Elon Musk when he’s in possession of thousands of emails linking Twitter malfeasance to the Democratic National Committee.

What we don’t know is how much material Musk has shared with Taibbi, and who else might be caught in the web. Presumably, there will be a book. Will it come in time for the 2024 elections? Bet on it. Will it be suppressed? Not this time.

The leaders of the Western political establishment, from its 99-year-old godfather Henry Kissinger through the Bidens, Clintons, Obamas and Cheneys right down to the Romneys, Trudeaus and Arderns, are all scared to death of the potential of social media to shape an information narrative outside the control of their own social class. To a person they admire China’s governance mechanisms, and they are envious of the media management tools that the Chinese Communist Party has at its disposal. That’s why they’re so comfortable with TikTok. From their standpoint, the more Western social media come to resemble China’s, the better.

The great thing about capitalism is that it creates the space for a maverick billionaire who sees an underpriced asset saddled with a dying business model to buy it and make a fortune by liberating it. For a fraction of the price of a Facebook or a YouTube, Musk has acquired a major social media platform, and he shows every sign of wanting to monetise his investment by making Twitter relevant again. If he succeeds, democracy will emerge all the stronger. If he fails, we’ll only have ourselves to blame.

If there ever was a time to get on Twitter, it’s now. I returned to Twitter the day Musk announced his bid. If you want to give him a realistic chance at turning it around, join me there. Where we lead, the advertisers will follow. Someday, the mainstream media may catch up, too.

At end: This article appeared in Quadrant on December 4 2022 and is republished by kind permission.  

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Salvatore Babones
Salvatore Babones
Salvatore Babones is an American sociologist and an associate professor at the University of Sydney.

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