Elon Musk’s hyped “Twitter Files” show Biden campaign asked to remove Hunter Biden nude photos

Despite promising damning info, release shows Biden's campaign asked Twitter to comply with its own policies

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published December 5, 2022 12:45PM (EST)

Elon Musk (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Elon Musk (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The "Twitter Files" released by Elon Musk failed to reveal any groundbreaking information about "free speech suppression" taking place on the social media platform as Musk had teased. 

Instead, Substack writer Matt Taibbi published a Twitter thread detailing the platform's decision to limit access to a New York Post article about the contents of Hunter Biden's laptop – some of which violated Twitter's revenge porn policy.

Taibbi's thread showed internal communications from Twitter officials indicating they had received requests from Joe Biden's 2020 presidential campaign to review tweets posted to the platform.  

Taibbi shared a screenshot of five deleted tweets, four of which had archives available online that depicted nude photos and videos of the president's son. The contents of Hunter Biden's laptop had been leaked after he allegedly left his device at a Delaware repair shop.

The posts show ongoing debates inside Twitter over whether the decision to block the Post story was the right call.

In one message, Trenton Kennedy, a member of Twitter's communications team asked questions about why the story was being restricted.

"I'm struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe, and I think the best explainability argument for this externally would be that we're waiting to understand if this story is the result of hacked materials," Kennedy wrote, according to a screenshot shared by Taibbi. "We'll face hard questions on this if we don't have some kind of solid reasoning for marking the link unsafe."

Initially, Twitter blocked links to the Post's reporting, even preventing users from sharing them in private messages, citing its policy on hacked and stolen materials. The company went as far as locking the newspaper's account for sharing the story and even suspended then-White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany, The Washington Post reported.

But days later, the policy was reversed. Then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he regretted the platform's decision to censor the story at a November 2020 congressional hearing, adding that they changed their policy on hacked materials after considering feedback, The Washington Post reported

"We made a quick interpretation, using no other evidence, that the materials in the article were obtained through hacking, and according to our policy, we blocked them from being spread," he said. "Upon further consideration, we admitted this action was wrong and corrected it within 24 hours."

The platform's restrictions on the New York Post story received criticism from conservatives saying Twitter was censoring the news and favoring Democratic politicians.  

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Musk also described the company's actions as violating the First Amendment even though the tweets contained no political content, but instead included pictures and videos of Hunter Biden that had been circulated without his consent. 

In response to one of the screenshots, which included a Twitter employee saying they "handled" a review of tweets flagged from the Biden team, Musk posted "If this isn't a violation of the Constitution's First Amendment, what is?"

In the same thread, he added: "Twitter acting by itself to suppress free speech is not a 1st amendment violation, but acting under orders from the government to suppress free speech, with no judicial review, is".

But at the time that Twitter restricted the New York Post story from being shared on the platform, Donald Trump was still president.

The social media platform's non-consensual nudity policy itself specifically prohibits sharing "images or videos that are taken in an intimate setting and not intended for public distribution."

Hunter Biden's leaked computer files as well as Twitter's handling of it have been the subject of ongoing controversy for the past two years. Musk, who hinted at smoking-gun evidence regarding Twitter's content moderation policy, offered nothing new.

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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Aggregate Donald Trump Elon Musk Hunter Biden Joe Biden Politics Twitter