Elon Musk - Twitter

Elon Musk, Defender of Free Speech: Hunter Biden, Twitter and Big Tech Censorship

9 December 2022

5.2 MINS

Elon Musk’s actions since his takeover of Twitter appear to back up his pro-free-speech rhetoric. Moreover, his release of the “Twitter files” has exposed a culture of censorship and partisanship within Twitter’s management.

Back in April, when Elon Musk first purchased Twitter for $61.4 billion AUD, I wrote an article speculating that this could turn out to be a positive development for freedom of expression. At the time, it was mere speculation. I finished the article with these words:

“Undoubtedly, the world will watch with anticipation as Musk begins to make significant changes to the Twitter platform. Many will look on with the hope that Twitter 2.0 will become a bastion of free speech in the world of Big Tech.”

Since then, there have been numerous developments in the world of Big Tech, Twitter and US politics. However, one story, in particular, seems to have vindicated Musk’s early claims to be a defender of free speech.

The Hunter Biden Laptop Scandal

For the background to the story, let me quote from an article by The Daily Declaration’s features and research editor, Kurt Mahlburg:

“​​On the eve of the 2020 Trump-Biden election, the New York Post published key contents of Hunter Biden’s email inbox. Its series of reports suggested that Hunter and his dad — Joe Biden, then Vice-President to Obama — had colluded to use the Biden family name to buy business influence in Ukraine.

Monetising the office of Vice-President would have been an unforgivable sin for a Presidential candidate in normal circumstances. If the same dirt had been dug up on Donald Trump Jr, America’s national media would have buried the Trump family name overnight and ended any hope of Trump’s re-election. But not so for Biden.

Following the Post’s exposé, the national press pretended the story didn’t exist. Fifty former intelligence officials signed a dubious open letter suggesting that the laptop hard drive was “Russian disinformation”. And Big Tech platforms colluded to block any public discussion of the story.

Twitter was the worst of them, locking the New York Post, the oldest newspaper in America, out of its account for two weeks. Twitter claimed that the Post had published “hacked” materials and proceeded to hold the paper hostage, demanding it delete six tweets about Hunter’s laptop if it wanted its account reinstated for the remainder of the election season.”

The Truth Comes Out: Partisanship and Suppression

Before long, The New York Times and other legacy outlets sheepishly admitted their mistake. But they conveniently waited until after the presidential election was over. In mid-April, they confirmed that the reports originally broken by the New York Post were accurate.

However, this wasn’t the end of the story.

Over the past week, Elon Musk has released internal Twitter documents that have exposed blatant censorship and partisanship within the social media giant during the Hunter Biden fiasco.


As Prof. Jonathan Turley argues, the documents show that “a back channel existed” between Twitter executives and the Biden campaign back in 2020. Screenshots show requests from “the Biden team” to review tweets associated with the Hunter Biden scandal.

Importantly, Matt Taibi — the independent journalist tasked with releasing the documents — noted that both Republicans and Democrats had access to these backdoor channels. “[I]n 2020, requests from both the Trump White House and the Biden campaign were received and honored,” he explained. However, the situation was clearly unbalanced, largely because Twitter was dominated by employees from one political persuasion.

Matt Taibi’s assessment of Twitter’s handling of the Hunter Biden story is scathing:

“​​Twitter took extraordinary steps to suppress the story, removing links and posting warnings that it may be ‘unsafe.’ They even blocked its transmission via direct message, a tool hitherto reserved for extreme cases, e.g. child pornography.”

These “extraordinary steps” also included locking White House spokeswoman Kaleigh McEnany from her Twitter account after she tweeted about the story.

Twitter’s Censorship of the New York Post: Internal Documents

Moreover, the justification for Twitter’s action was completely fabricated — “freelanced”, according to one former employee.

“Hacking was the excuse, but within a few hours, pretty much everyone realised that wasn’t going to hold. But no one had the guts to reverse it.” (Former Twitter employee)

Conversations (from October 2020) revealed by Matt Taibi show Twitter employees discussing how to justify their continued censorship of the New York Post’s story. Apparently, it was clear to some communications and policy officials that there was no legitimate reason to suppress the story. Taibi notes:

“Several employees noted that there was tension between the comms/policy teams, who had little/less control over moderation, and the safety/trust teams.”

“We’ll face hard questions on this if we don’t have some kind of solid reasoning for marking the link unsafe,” wrote Trenton Kennedy, a communications official. Kennedy said that he was “struggling to understand the policy basis for marking [the link] as unsafe”.

Another communications official queried, “Can we truthfully claim that this is part of the policy?” Other employees admitted over email that their justification for suppressing the story was “not ideal”, but affirmed that it would continue anyway.

This kind of aggressive censorship is all the more astonishing considering that the Hunter Biden story was true — and it was first reported not by a conspiracy theorist or an alternative news outlet, but by America’s oldest mainstream newspaper, the New York Post.

As Democratic Representative Rohit Khanna argued, “Censorship of the Hunter Biden story might have helped my party, but it was bad for our democracy.” At the time the story broke, Rep. Khanna was actually the lone Democratic voice to question Twitter’s censorship. The “Twitter files” reveal that he emailed Twitter management, arguing that Twitter’s suppression of the story constituted a breach of the First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

By any measure, Twitter’s actions, which sparked similar censorship by other Big Tech companies, was a gross overreach and a flagrant violation of the principles of free speech. It illustrates just how easy it is for Big Tech companies to manipulate and decide what “truth” is made available to the public.

As Rep. Khanna indicated, Twitter’s suppression undoubtedly “helped” the Democratic Party in the 2020 Presidential race. To what degree, we will never know.

Opportunism or Free Speech Conviction?

Many people are — perhaps understandably — sceptical of Elon Musk’s positioning as a free-speech crusader. Surely, they say, he is merely an opportunist making money by pandering to conservatives, Christians, liberals and others concerned about freedom of expression.

Undoubtedly, Musk is a capable financial operator. He is a businessman and entrepreneur. I highly doubt that he bought Twitter out of purely philanthropic motives.

But this does nothing to diminish the significance of his Twitter takeover and the force that he has exerted, so far, in defence of freedom.

The extreme and frantic reaction by the legacy media and the woke corporate elite to Musk’s purchase illustrates my point perfectly. To them, he is now the enemy. Why? The reason they offer is his “laxness” in “combatting misinformation” (read: censorship). In other words, these people believe — and fear — that Elon Musk will make good on his promises to protect free speech.

Unlike many in Silicon Valley, Musk doesn’t see Twitter’s role as arbitrating truth from falsehood. Within reason, he seems to envision Twitter becoming a “town square” for productive online debate and discussion.

Accordingly, the establishment is terrified that deplorable perspectives will no longer be suppressed as they “ought” to be.

So, is Musk an opportunist or a defender of free speech?

His actions indicate that there is probably a bit of both, but does it really matter? As it stands, Musk has been instrumental in calling out Big Tech and legacy media censorship and mismanagement. He also seems determined to provide a platform that will respect a diversity of perspectives without “fact checking” and suppressing “misinformation” — as it did with the Hunter Biden story.

That has to be a good thing.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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One Comment

  1. Kaylene Emery 13 December 2022 at 5:27 pm - Reply

    I would agree that Musk is both defender of free speech when it is expedient, and self centred brat.
    So glad that I am learning tolerance!
    Great article Cody- thank you.

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