(…) The recently disclosed Twitter Files — a cache of internal communications from the social media giant — offer new evidence of one of the Russiagate disinformation campaign’s core functions: protecting the rule of domestic elites, particularly in the Democratic Party.
In two consecutive presidential elections, the Russian boogeyman has been invoked to stigmatize and silence reporting on the Democratic candidate. It began in 2016 when journalists who reported on the stolen DNC emails’ revelations about Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street speeches or the DNC’s bias against Bernie Sanders were blamed for Trump’s victory and deemed to be unwitting Kremlin dupes promoting “disinformation” – in reality, factual material that embarrassed the pre-ordained winner.
Four years later, that same playbook was deployed for Clinton’s successor at the top of Democratic ticket, Joe Biden. In the weeks before the November 2020 election, Twitter and Facebook censored the New York Post’s reporting about the contents Hunter Biden’s laptop on the grounds that the computer material could be “Russian disinformation.” The Post’s stories detailed how Hunter Biden traded on his family name to secure lucrative business abroad, and raised questions about Joe Biden’s denials of any involvement.
The US media responded to the suppression of the laptop story with indifference or even approval. In one notable case, Glenn Greenwald resigned from the outlet that he co-founded, The Intercept, after its editors attempted to censor his coverage of the laptop controversy. Even stories that had long been public — such as the unqualified Hunter receiving an $80,000-per-month Burisma board seat just months after his father’s administration helped overthrow Ukraine’s government – were effectively off-limits.
There was never a shred of evidence that Russia was behind the laptop story, but that was of no consequence. Dutiful media editors, reporters, and pundits took their cues from a group of more than 50 former intelligence officials, who issued a statement declaring that the Hunter Biden laptop story “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”
These intelligence veterans’ claim was in fact a classic Russiagate disinformation operation, as the Twitter files newly underscore.
“To me, this is just classic textbook Soviet Russian tradecraft at work,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says as authorities are investigating if recently published emails are tied to a Russian disinformation effort targeting Biden. https://t.co/shyMNnJ7Yr pic.twitter.com/GFSeIWXeY4
— CNN (@CNN) October 17, 2020
The files, obtained by journalist Matt Taibbi, confirm that Twitter executives suppressed the Hunter Biden laptop story based on the suspicion that Russia was behind it, despite their awareness that they had no evidence for that belief.
Asked to explain the rationale, Twitter’s then-Global Head of Trust and Safety Yoel Roth told colleagues that the “policy basis is hacked materials,” even though, he added, “the facts remain unclear.” Roth justified the fact-free censorship by invoking what he called “the SEVERE risks here and lessons of 2016.” By “lessons of 2016”, Roth was referring to the similarly evidence-free claims that Russia was behind the release of stolen DNC emails. By “SEVERE risks,” one plausible interpretation is that Roth is referring to the risk that dissemination of factual material could again, as in 2016, hurt the Democratic candidate, not to mention the career prospects of those who allow that to happen.
Joining Roth in agreement was Jim Baker, Twitter’s deputy general counsel, who advised that “it is reasonable for us to assume that they may have been [hacked] and that caution is warranted.” (emphasis added) Baker’s mere presence at Twitter, and willingness to “assume” a falsehood that could justify censorship, reveals another lesson of 2016: from media outlets to social media giants, US intelligence officials have been granted unprecedented influence over the flow of public information – including stories in which they have blatant conflicts of interest. (Read more: Aaron Maté/Substack, 12/16/2022) (Archive)