Elon Musk’s Twitter 2.0

This is the first of several posts about Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter and his authorising of key journalists to publish findings after their examination of Twitter’s files and email communication records to make public Twitter’s various methods used to constrain and even ban the free speech of mostly conservative account holders.

Twitter is perhaps the highest profile of all the giant social media companies. Whilst it is easily dwarfed by Facebook and even Instagram in terms of sheer numbers of Followers and does not host the volume of watchable content that You Tube does, Twitter’s power to shape public opinion more than any other social media platform comes from the type of people who are on Twitter; that is opinion leaders in the world of politics, media, entertainment and sport. Twitter is a site where the great debates of the age and the most important political and current affairs matters are quickly and vigourously aired. Anyone of any substance is on Twitter: politicians, prominent reporters, media companies, large corporations, influential intellectuals, think tanks, government agencies, sports stars, actors/singers/celebrities and writers. Twitter is where important narratives about the big political and social events are shaped and driven. A narrative forms first on Twitter and then is echoed by the large opinion leading mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, major broadcast networks, NPR, Fox , CNN, MSNC and outside the US; the UK’s The Times, Daily Mail, BBC, Sky News, Australia’s ABC and major metro dailies, Canada’s CBC and mainstream newspapers and in NZ; TVNZ, RNZ, NZ Herald and Stuff.

Twitter, like all social and regular media companies, always suffered from a liberal bias. With its headquarters in San Francisco and hiring the brightest but mostly progressive woke engineers and programmers, quickly a liberal oriented group think coalesced amongst management matching that found in the editorial rooms of all but Fox News in the wider mainstream media. When Donald Trump burst on the scene, his pugnacious, combative, take-no-prisoners and fight-his-corner style was tailor made for Twitter and Trump took to the medium with gusto and would easily engage in flame wars with his political rivals across both major parties and with many prominent left leaning journalists and garnered a huge following.

Twitter’s influence over the public square came sharply into focus as the Covid pandemic spread. It enthusiastically endorsed the various draconian measures taken to try and curb the spread of the virus and willingly encouraged and supported the various government health experts and administrators globally as lockdowns unfolded and mask mandates and other measures were enacted with varying degrees of severity depending on the country, state or province. As medical and other skeptics of the tactics used began to emerge, Twitter, along with other social and mainstream media companies, actively began to shape and control content through a variety of control mechanisms that included: shadow banning, de-monetising, adding warning tags for what their fact checkers deemed as misleading information, limiting reach via an inability to Like, re-Tweet, comment or forward offending Tweets through to suspensions and outright bans. Several doctors were early outspoken critics of the pandemic control measures including Stanford University scientist Jay Bhattacharya who was one of early drivers of the Great Barrington Declaration (a joint letter opposing lockdowns eventually signed by over 800,000 doctors and scientists), as well as renown Dallas, TX cardiologist Dr. Peter McCullough (an early pioneer in effective non-vaccine Covid treatments), mRNA co-inventor Dr Robert Malone, Cameroon – American Physician Dr. Stella Immanuel (an outspoken proponent of successful treatment of Covid with Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine) and a host of other doctors and commentators all over the world who were all progressively subjected to the suite of controls Twitter could impose and most were ultimately removed from the platform.

In the run up to the 2020 election, Twitter began to restrict the content and reach of prominent conservatives such as Dan Bongino (former Secret Service agent and prominent TV/cable commentator), James O’Keefe (Founder of Project Veritas, an undercover journalism outfit exposing liberal excesses) and Charlie Kirk (Founder of Turning Point USA, the US’s premier conservative school/university outreach programme) along with a myriad of smaller accounts of conservative leaning contributors. Of course, the most high-profile conservative person restricted on Twitter was President Donald Trump himself whose tweets began to be restricted in May of 2020 when he commented that mail-in ballots were rife with fraud. Because of mainstream media reporting of the events of January 6, 2021 and the role MSM deemed Trump to have played in the protests, on January 8th Trump was removed from Twitter for supposedly promoting violence and he was permanently banned a few weeks later.

In early 2022, tech billionaire, and Tesla and SpaceX founder, Elon Musk began to talk about how Twitter’s moderation policies were restricting freedom of speech and that bot activity was skewering debate. In January 2022 he began buying shares and by early April, he had acquired just over 9% of the stock making him the single largest shareholder. For this he was offered a seat on the Twitter Board which Musk initially accepted but then later declined. On April 14th Musk made an unconditional offer of $44 billion to buy Twitter which was initially met with some hostility from the Board who opted for a ‘poison pill’ strategy treating Musk’s approach as effectively a hostile takeover but eventually the offer was accepted by the Board on April 25th.

Musk began due diligence and in July, he announced his intention to terminate the offer due to his research unearthing more spam bots than the 5% Twitter had disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in their most recent filings required by all US publicly listed companies. Bot activity has relevance to the placement rates sold to advertisers as the rates are based on the number of views linked to the percentage of accounts that are actual real people. For instance, if bot activity was say 25% (as some of those advising Musk had estimated) rather than less than 5%, then the incoming advertising revenue would be slashed as the rates would have to be adjusted to match the actual true number of eyeballs viewing Tweets on the platform. Twitter’s Board then sued Musk for non-compliance of the sale contract and a trial was set down for October 17, 2022. A few weeks before the trial, Musk indicated he would proceed with the purchase and the sale settled on October 27th.

Musk took the company private and fired the entire Board, CEO and other key executives and began the process of firing almost 50% of the total staff of 7,500. Other staff resigned either in protest over his stated intention to ease the strict moderation policies that had largely targeted conservatives or over the his demand that almost all employees return to full time work at the office. A good percentage of Twitter employees had relocated to less expensive cities and/or worked from home and yet enjoyed the high Bay Area salaries needed to attract staff to such a high-cost city. Gradually Musk began to restore the accounts of many of the conservatives (including former President Trump) and Covid/vaccine narrative critics that had been suspended or banned. He dispensed with the blue check mark system designed for exclusivity of higher profile accounts whose profile and market presence could be verified in favour of a monthly fee payable by anyone who applied. Musk courted controversy when he suspended the accounts of a number of prominent journalists who he accused of doxxing his family by linking to the banned account of a young college student who accessed confidential and public information about the whereabouts of Musk’s private jet. This activity had led to someone threatening Musk’s teenage son whilst driving.

As part of his takeover of Twitter, Musk promised greater transparency around Twitter’s moderation policies, and he agreed to allow selected journalists into Twitter headquarters to examine Twitter’s files and internal communications around their controversial moderation decisions. Elon cleverly chose several mostly left leaning (or former left leaning) but fair-minded journalists used to investigative reporting, many of whom had been hostile to Donald Trump, to go over the records and produce Twitter threads reporting on their findings. They are:

* Matt Taibbi – left leaning former Russia based journalist then political writer for Rolling Stone Magazine and long-time critic of conservatives but a more recent critic of cancel culture and skewered and politicised journalism. He also runs a popular Substack and freelances on a number of topics on modern culture.

* Bari Weiss – left leaning journalist who quit her political writer’s job at the NY Times in 2020 due to her belief that the NYT was caving to Twitter mobs who criticized her for not woke and left enough coverage. She now runs her own Substack and is Editor of The Free Press.

* Alex Berenson – former NY Times investigative and financial journalist then novelist, Berenson wrote a book opposing marijuana legalisation and was an early critic of the pandemic response writing a book called Pandemia and regularly covers Covid and vaccine harm related issues on his Substack.

* Michael Shellenberger – a mostly environmental journalist, author and supporter of nuclear power as the fastest and cleanest way to a green environment and a Time magazine “Hero of the Environment”.

* Lee Fang – a left leaning reporter and investigative journalist and blogger formally of left leaning Think Progress and The Nation and then at The Intercept. Seen as fair and balanced, he provoked a Twitter firestorm for reporting black fear about crime from a George Floyd memorial. Also prominent on Substack.

* David Zweig – a left leaning freelance journalist and author who has published in liberal publications such as the NY Times, The New Yorker and The Atlantic. He has published articles asking probing questions on Covid related matters.

To date there have been 15 Twitter File releases each one authored by one of the above journalists. I will cover a summary of the non-Covid related Twitter Files in Part 2, and I will do a Part 3 once all the various Covid related Twitter File releases have concluded as this aspect of Musk’s disclosures has only just begun.

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