Ideal and Non-Ideal Political Philosophy of Liberalism and the Twitter Files

by John Holbo on December 11, 2022

The following is a lightly blog-ized version of a Twitter thread. I fear Twitter is going downhill so I really should transition back to blogging. Back to the land!

Start with a Chris Hayes tweet: “he’s a right-wing billionaire who was motivated to buy twitter because he thought it was antagonistic to right-wingers and wants, instead, to make it friendly to them. that’s it. that’s the whole story.”

And I respond.

And the reason why the right buys the twitter files, despite it being nonsense, is they engage in motivated reasoning. But there is still interest in working out how that goes, e.g via confused slippage between: 1) the way Twitter operated was non-ideal; 2) scandal!

Ideally, Twitter should be a neutral ‘public carrier’ – a public square where broadly Millian ‘no-harm’ rules rule, classically liberally. Therefore, there shouldn’t be private, corporate types with any power to throttle or boost or moderate or flag, or any of that. This normative proposition is plausible. It depends on ‘Bigness’ of Twitter, largely. The idea being: Twitter has gotten so big, ergo essential to the discourse – its like an information superhighway unto itself – it would violate private speech rights to deny access.

Meanwhile, back on earth, Twitter is a private company, so saying it’s a ‘scandal’ that this Millian Utopia does not obtain is like saying it’s a ‘scandal’ that end-state Marxism has never really been tried. You can think so, normatively. But it’s not exactly newsworthy.

So, in the right-wing imaginary, our collective failure to collectivise Twitter, to bring about utopian end-state Millian liberalism, is somehow the fault of – oh, an openly gay Jewish mid-level executive, Yoel Roth. Imagine picking him as a scapegoat!

Meanwhile, back on earth, it should be obvious that if Millian Utopia is the normative goal, the fact that Elon Musk isn’t trying to bring about anything of the sort – he isn’t giving the platform to ‘the public’, wrapped in a bow of transparency – ought to give pause. Musk is not going to operate non-ideologically or un-capriciously. But somehow ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss!’ strikes the right-wing as an inspirational promise of better things to come! (Which is very on-brand right-wing, may I say.)

But there’s another level of normative (ideal-non-ideal) confusion here. It has to do with the fact that free association and privacy rights give people – and entities – the right to set local rules. You can start a right-wing or left-wing group. You can start a church. You can control your membership and set rules of order about what one may say and do, within bounds of the organization. Your intermediate group or civic organization can thus be locally illiberal. It needn’t operate, internally, by Millian rules of free speech, for example. If you can’t do this, then that in itself would be a terrible infringement of liberty – illiberal! If the answer to ‘is the Pope Catholic?’ is a question – ‘who is to say, under Millian rules for picking Popes?’ – then you have abolished the Catholic Church. Illiberal! So liberalism needs illiberalism since people have to be allowed to choose illiberalism locally, as it were. This isn’t just a right, it’s prudential. It’s civically healthy to have lots of fairly substantial – above the level of the individual – civil organisations and such.

Now: Twitter. If Twitter is not the government but an intermediate group, then there is no ‘scandal’ to it being locally illiberal in ways that seem prudential/normatively desirable for the purposes of the group.

Some of these purposes include: pleasing users and advertisers; but also fulfilling a sense of civic duty, a mission. If part of that mission includes mitigating perceived harms and threats, it makes sense that this might entail – oh, say, throttling bad actor accounts. If you don’t like that – if you think Twitter has gotten SO big that having unelected individuals like Yoel Roth wield power to pick losers, in effect – then you need to break up Twitter or nationalise it or mandate that it be a ‘public carrier’. In this case there is no twitter files ‘scandal’. It isn’t a scandal that Twitter hasn’t been nationalised, insofar as ‘scandal’ implies surprised disappointment. It’s public knowledge Twitter is currently a private company, not a branch of the government, bound by 1A.

You also have to recognise that intermediate groups are not supposed to be un-influential, per se. ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’ The answer should not be ‘only so long as the Catholic Church has no influence whatsoever on non-Catholics.’ That’s too stringent. The point of intermediate groups is to have SOME influence on other groups. They are supposed to act as healthy checks on each other – and on the government. Inevitably, they may act instead as bullies or bad actors in the public square. There is no way to rule it out.

There is no perfect free market in groups. You just have to bump along, kludge through. Musk could, of course, say this is what he is doing. But he’s not. He’s now darkly hinting Roth is a pedophile. Matt Taibbi & Bari Weiss could say this is what they want. But they aren’t. They are pretending to see ‘scandal’. They don’t. It’s deliberately misleading for them to whip up a misleading sense that the revealed facts are anything but what we would expect, given Twitter is Twitter.

What DO they see (as opposed to say), do you suppose?

Oscar Wilde wrote: “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.” There’s a darker side to this wisdom. It is that when folks want to set sail for someplace that suits them for personal or partisan reasons, they don’t say that. They say they are setting sail for Utopia (e.g. Millian liberalism). And then, when we wash up on the shores of Some Fresh Hell, rather like the stale one we left – well, you know how it goes! One must be realistic! When Yoel Roth made democratically-unaccountable judgments, that was him being a fanatic woke lunatic in a bubble.

When Musk does so, or when Taibbi and Weiss make judgments based on documents no one else is privileged to see, that’s sunlight as disinfectant! That’s people of good will working towards Millian ideals with the best of wills! Trust them! Not like that sinister Roth figure.

To put it one last way, the greatest critic of the reactionary mind was always Chesterton. “There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place …” He thought the latter approach was infinitely more enchanting. It can be! It certainly gets you out and about. But it can also be a self-serving form of garden variety moral confabulation. One must consider.



Peter Dorman 12.11.22 at 5:48 am

In the end, don’t we have to choose? Isn’t a platform like Twitter either a public square or a private income-generating investment? If it’s the first, it should be publicly owned or, if that isn’t possible, highly regulated to provide a democratic forum for communication. If it’s the second, we should pull out all the stops to facilitate competition, even if that tilts the playing field toward entrants. (So a network externality monopoly won’t get ensconced that usurps the role of a public forum for purely mercenary reasons.) The grey zone in the middle is the worst option, isn’t it?

From this perspective, Taibbi’s choice to accept Musk’s Twitter stipulation looks like it reinforces the core problem.


John Holbo 12.11.22 at 6:06 am

Yeah, pretty much. I think there might be grey zone solutions that are ok, but the main thing is to be clear-eyed about the shape of the problem. Musk, Taibbi and Weiss are working hard to obfuscate that by shouting ‘scandal!’ Either the shape of it isn’t scandalous or it is. If it isn’t, don’t say it is. If it is, then change the shape to address the scandal. Don’t just introduce something new that is the same shape.


nastywoman 12.11.22 at 7:40 am

I like the explanation of Eric Levitz.

The ‘Twitter Files’ Is What It Claims to Expose

Twitter is not what it seems. The social-media platform poses as a neutral marketplace for the exchange of ideas and information; an agora where journalists, politicians, academics, cultural icons, business titans, and ordinary citizens can engage in a dialogue unbounded by gatekeeping elites.
But it is actually a tool of progressive power. While you were hypnotized by viral memes, a cabal of social-justice STEM majors seized the commanding heights of the attention economy. And they have been using it to bend the mass public to their will. By subtly manipulating which forms of speech do and do not gain prominence — and/or simply banishing wrongthink from its platform — Twitter imposes woke orthodoxy on the nation’s youth while insulating the liberal elite from popular rebuke. This information warfare hasn’t merely cost conservative commentators followers or retweets; it cost a Republican president the White House.

That’s the story that conservatives want to tell about what Twitter used to be, in the bad old days before Elon Musk begrudgingly bought it. Fortunately, Twitter’s new CEO has a deep-seated objection to social-media companies using their power over discourse to promote partisan causes. Therefore, Musk is using his newfound power over discourse to promote the conservative movement’s demagogic narratives about Twitter and the Democratic president’s son.

Specifically, Musk delivered a vast trove of internal Twitter documents to two independent journalists, Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss, who have long endorsed aspects of the GOP’s indictment of the platform. Taibbi and Weiss proceeded to publish a pair of exposés on Twitter’s inner workings. Dubbed “the Twitter Files,” these reports featured a couple genuinely concerning findings about pre-Musk Twitter’s operations. But they were also saturated in hyperbole, marred by omissions of context, and discredited by instances of outright mendacity. Musk’s commentary on the Twitter Files, meanwhile, proved even more demagogic and deceptive than the exposés themselves.

For these reasons, the Twitter Files are best understood as an egregious example of the very phenomenon it purports to condemn — that of social-media managers leveraging their platforms for partisan ends’.

And otherwise:
What type of people do that? –
Trying to use the children or other relatives of somebody they hate – for their (political) games.

Such people are NOT ‘nice’ people – even if a Donald or a Matt or a Glenn or a Bari say so!


anon/portly 12.11.22 at 7:51 am

Start with a Chris Hayes tweet: “he’s a right-wing billionaire who was motivated to buy twitter because he thought it was antagonistic to right-wingers and wants, instead, to make it friendly to them. that’s it. that’s the whole story.”

The whole story?

Maybe there’s room in the story for a guy who overpaid for something, trying to drum up a little interest and activity in that something. Engagement.

Like Vince McMahon, he knows his character can’t be a good guy, The Elon Musk character has to be a Heel.

He didn’t just pick Bari Weiss’s and Matt Taibbi’s names out of a hat. He knew their participation would be particularly effective in pushing the buttons of the Chris Hayeses of the Twitter World – and there are a lot of Chris Hayes types on Twitter. It’s the dominant faction, isn’t it?

(Okay, maybe – I just thought I’d throw this out there…. But who believes Musk is playing things completely straight? And anyway, with Trump not coming back and even if he does come back, something of a diminished figure, you can see the logic of how Twitter was needing a new villain, or at least some fresh villainy to bat back and forth).


MisterMr 12.11.22 at 8:55 am

I see two problems with this argument:
The minor one, about “nationalisation”, is that Twitter has international scope. Why should I accept that, say, the USA government rulez on my platforms while I’m not a USA citizen and don’t vote for it?

The second, more substantial, is the limits to free speech. In theory everybody has a human right to free speech, but like all absolute rights this will collide with other people’s rights so that in practice there will be limits, like a ban on hate speech, or on personal defamation.
The example of defamation is clear: I can’t say X is a pedophile if I have no proof because if X is innocent I’m destroying his life, so there has to be some law that prevents me to do this, a limit to my free speech.
In the case of Trump, he was saying that the current government of the USA is illegal, even if he was repeatedly proven wrong AFAIK.
This is another case of likely useful limit to free speech because if every time you lose an election you pretend that the others are cheating sooner or later some people will believe it and start an insurrection.

This is because if the other side is cheating starting an insurrection is the moral thing to do.

This has nothing to do with private spaces and is arguably part of Millian rules.
This is also one of these rules that are prerequisites for democracy and therefore must be out of democratic reach.


nastywoman 12.11.22 at 9:14 am

AND as the word ‘trump’ –
(the Worlds New Word for: Utmost Right Wing Racist Science Denying Evil Stupidity)
was just mentioned – and I agree with ‘Trump’ – that without Twitter he NEVER could have fooled so many Americans into voting for him – the TwitGame is just an awesome effective propaganda Tool -(in the worst possible way) AND if we would have had enough Dough – WE -(all the Expats of this World) would have bought it in order to run America from Konstanz or London or Verona or Straßburg –
BUT as we don’t have the dough – we at least can make sure -(via EU Law) that Elons Right Wing Internet Warriors don’t defeat US in Europe too!


Adam Roberts 12.11.22 at 9:54 am

I think this is right, but I think there’s another context. Liberalism is more than just a set of social protocol propositions (‘people should be free to do whatever they want provided them doing what they want doesn’t trespass upon other people’s freedoms to do what they want’ and so on). It’s also a product of Englightenment rationality. So, for instance, it assumes that arguments should draw on evidence, disagreements moderated with reference to the evidence and so on. But this is not where we are.

I was struck seeing the “Twitter Files” brouhaha hitting Twitter by the number of people who engaged with it by saying: either (as in the thread you reference in this post) “but show us the evidence for these claims, transparency! transparency!” or else by sifting specific claims and saying “but actually the evidence Weiss herself supplies contradicts her conclusions” (or: “I can falsify what Weiss is claiming with this reference I have uncovered”). What struck me was the futility of this. Do you really think Weiss’s target audience will be one whit swayed by any of that? Will a single right-wing Twitter user will have his/her needle moved so much as an iota by such appeals? Of course not. Members of this tribe already believe that Twitter has long been prejudiced against them, a conspiracy to gag and attack them and their values. Weiss does not need to supply evidence for such people to believe what she says—they already believe what she says. She doesn’t even need to make an appeal to authority (“trust me, I’ve seen the evidence, and though I’m not disclosing it here it entirely supports my case”). All that kind of stuff is irrelevant. These are not Enlightenment, objectively-supported, rational, ‘Liberal’-y belief-structures founded upon a dispassionate sifting of evidence and fact, and they won’t be dismantled with appeals to such.

I agree that the “liberals are the real illiberals because they want to deny me my illiberal values!” rhetorical jink is an important one nowadays (other versions of it: “black people accusing me of racism are the real racists!” “men are the real victims of sexism!”). But this depends upon a deeper repudiation of Liberal-valence ‘truth claim’ as such I think. QAnon is not debunked by evidential falsification of its various lunacies; that’s simply not the point of it. The whole Twitter Files thing is a performative restatement of what a large bunch of people already believe and are not prepared, on any terms, to disbelieve.


nastywoman 12.11.22 at 10:52 am

AND when Elon bought the ‘sink’ – we told him that he STILL has this image of being some kind of a (good) Quality Guy. And as his products (mainly e-cars) STILL have a pretty ‘good’ image NOT to ruin it all by suddenly producing all kind of Dreck and Trump Trash on his Internet Platform.

AND if he just couldn’t have resisted to become a ‘Publisher’ too –
there is NO constitutional right to have any pics of Hunter Biden’s genitals – retweeted.


engels 12.11.22 at 12:11 pm

I haven’t followed the Taibbi stuff and I don’t think I’m a free speech obsessive or at all sympathetic to the US right but banning Trump always seemed self-evidently ridiculous to me.


engels 12.11.22 at 12:41 pm

The DNA of Twitter is liberal (in the proper sense of pro-market-capitalism, not the silly American sense of marginally left of center) in that it turns all its denizens into discursive entrepreneurs, fighting with each other to “build their brands” in quantitative terms, keeping their customers satisfied by gratifying their shallowest desires etc. For that reason it is thoroughly invidious to the left and to humanity, regardless of who owns it or their politics.


MisterMr 12.11.22 at 3:02 pm


Based on my perception of how things went in Italy with Berlusconi, what happens is this: there is one guy who is flaunting the rules of democracy in an egregious way, such as that this guy should normally be jailed. But he represents 50% of the electorate, so he himself is practically out of the reach of the law unless caught literally with the hands in the bag (for B. with his willie inside a underage prostitute).

Trump should have been jailed for sedition, but in practical terms this was impossible. Since he wasn’t jailed it seems that what he says isn’t illegal and therefore when other entities treat Trump’s externation as somewhat inacceptable these institutions look like if they are infringing T’s free speech rights, however what T. claimed after the elections is , in italian, “istigazione a delinquere”, istigation to commit crimes, I don’t know what the english term is.


Alex SL 12.11.22 at 8:48 pm

As others have pointed out, it is foolish to expect the US right wing as currently observable on social media to be either logically consistent or swayed by lack of evidence. Although only very indirectly affected, because far outside of the USA, I found it quite dismaying to see the “Twitter Files” discourse on Twitter.

In short, what has been “revealed” so far is that (a) the Biden camp asked for his son’s inappropriate photos to be suppressed, (b) Twitter applied a pre-existing “we must not promote information gained from hacks” policy to the infamous laptop, and (c) after allowing Trump to freely propagate racial hatred and disinformation for years, Twitter finally banned him only after he used the platform as part of his failed attempt to overthrow the constitutional order of the USA. That’s it.

Yet hundreds of replies under these Twitter Files posts go “yes, now we have proof!” and “great work defending freedom, Elon!”. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of people in the USA see this and walk away believing that there is now evidence that Old Twitter had been a far left conspiracy to systematically suppress conservative voices. It is like watching a crowd of flat earthers being shown a time-lapse movie from a satellite showing the entire globe in 360 degree rotation under it and them all then walking away patting each other on the backs how this video has just decisively proved the globe theory to be false.

Again, dismaying – because thanks to social media I am watching the insides of a cult in real time, and I struggle to understand how so many people can care so much more about in-group virtue signaling than about trying to figure out whether something they are told is correct or incorrect, which is always my primary concern, even if I may sometimes get it wrong. (Maybe I am just a weird nerd.) Worse, I am struggling to maintain optimism that a democracy and civil society can survive if half the population constitutes a proto-fascist cult.

Regarding the question of nationalising, regulating, or encouraging competition: The only reason Twitter works in the first place is that it is single, large and a centralised place for a certain audience with a certain kind of discourse (experts, journalists, and those who want to follow their thoughts and news). Breaking that community up into ten competing platforms destroys the entire benefit of being on and having a Twitter in the first place. Just look at all the discourse around alternatives like Mastodon: “I am signed up now, but hardly anybody from my Twitter network is here…”. Thus the only way to maintain Twitter’s benefit to its main users would be to nationalise and/or heavily regulate. But, not going to happen, obviously.


marcel proust 12.11.22 at 10:12 pm

@ Mr. Mister

there is one guy who is flaunting flouting the rules of democracy in an egregious way, such as that this guy should normally be jailed

FTFY (I think)


Niauropsaka 12.11.22 at 10:38 pm

The Musk fans, once you get past those who have little enough information to trust what he claims, are presumably using the same principle as Seven Mountains Dominionism:
All institutions are to be subjected to the rule of Us’ns, which means they must be wrested from Them’ns. Arbitrariness by the Good Guys is inevitable and unobjectionable. Abitrariness by the Other Team is a pretext for fury.


nastywoman 12.11.22 at 11:06 pm

and as ‘Goebbels’ is trending on Twitter now – I’m really curious what y’all -(and especially Engels) ‘sink’?
Is Elon Musk really ‘the Modern Times Goebbels’ or do we have to wait until he will have reinstated every Neo Nazis account (the old Twitter team had banned) –

OR is he just ‘a harmless clown’ – (like ‘Trump’ – or the Crazy German Reichsbürger Heinrich the XIII who would have liked to overthrow their democratic government)

In other words:
Is it still ‘High Times For Funny’ – or should we finally get serious?


Oscar the Grouch 12.12.22 at 4:05 am

This is fabulous.

It makes me sad that illiberalism involves the refusal to apply rules or principles fairly, consistently or universally because these are such powerful considerations.

I wouldn’t call the game the right plays with liberal principles ‘Calvinball’ because I love Calvin & Hobbes, and they are nothing like Calvin. There are some important ways they don’t play Calvinball because 1) They aren’t playing for the fun of it 2) They aren’t calling out the rules when they change them 3) It’s likely Calvinball is a game inside a moral structure, so it would be called off if it gets too ugly.

It’s more like ‘Hobbesball’ or better yet ‘Foolesball’ a la ‘the Foole that sayeth in his heart…’ described by Hobbes.’

They use a moral principle to gain ground (ceded by their opponents, unfortunately, who sincerely adhere to that principle) them switch to another when consistent application of it would cause them a loss.

So they can’t be defeated by good arguments like this. But it does help because it gets harder and harder to pull the same moves over and over –once people see what’s happening, they are more likely to stand their ground.


Alan White 12.12.22 at 6:28 am

@nastywoman 15

I can only hope that Musk has the Midas touch that starves him ultimately.


Salem 12.12.22 at 12:33 pm

there is no ‘scandal’ to [non-governmental groups] being locally illiberal in ways that seem prudential/normatively desirable for the purposes of the group.

I can’t agree with this. There are different kinds of scandals.

Firstly, a group may behave in a way that others find seriously objectionable, even if it doesn’t rise to the level of criminal wrongdoing. To run with your example, the Catholic Church does have practices that many find scandalous, and it is a scandal for a new such practice to be revealed, even if Catholics claim that the behaviour is acceptable or at least expected. In a liberal society, opponents may not abolish the Catholic Church, but they do have the right to denounce it, disassociate from it, boycott it, etc. And in turn, a new Pope might wish to distance himself from previous wrongdoing, to try and turn over a new leaf with opponents.

Secondly, a group could behave in a way that is at odds with its professed principles and public statements. Private actions contrary to public statements can even rise to the level of criminality (e.g. fraud, misrepresentation, theft, etc). Even when non-criminal, lies and hypocrisy are generally considered scandalous. For example, Jerry Falwell Jr’s personal life may have been legal, but it was scandalous because it contradicted the messages he, and his organisations, were promoting.

I note here that Jack Dorsey made statements under oath that appear to be contradicted by the “Twitter Files.”

Thirdly, when a group becomes entwined with governments and political actors, things change. For example, if Twitter was responsive to requests from the Biden campaign because its senior executives are partisan Democrats, that’s tasty liberalism. But if they were responsive because they wanted good relations with a future Biden administration, then we’re into the realms of power, coercion, and all that scandal.

Finally, why are we interested in the liberal principles you’re talking about in the first place? Personally, I’m a liberal because I think it’s the best way to promote human flourishing, not because I think you can eat procedural rules. So when (seemingly) liberal structures lead to (seemingly) monstrous outcomes, people may choose to regard that as a scandal, and move away from liberalism entirely.

Twitter’s behaviour plausibly falls into all four categories of scandal.


M Caswell 12.12.22 at 1:43 pm

The appearance of paradox might be mitigated if you used the term ‘non-liberal’, rather than ‘illiberal.’


bekabot 12.12.22 at 4:28 pm

“Liberalism is more than just a set of social protocol propositions (‘people should be free to do whatever they want provided them doing what they want doesn’t trespass upon other people’s freedoms to do what they want’ and so on).”

That’s decadence for you: wizards become priests; priests become artists; and conviction turns into etiquette.


Trader Joe 12.12.22 at 5:05 pm

@4 Anon/Portly

I think Anon/Portly @4 may have inadvertently nailed the whole thing.

Twitter is to News what WWE is to sports. It doesn’t matter whether its real or fake, it doesn’t matter if you believe or not. Its purpose is to entertain and create advertising dollars and its mostly done that.

Believing that anything that appears on it is ‘real’ (whatever that might mean in context) or has the power to implement change is a failure of the viewer as well as the poster. A Blue Check mark just helps with the filtering, it doesn’t make anything that follows more true or less false.


Colin R 12.12.22 at 11:54 pm

Do any prominent conservatives make the argument, overt or implicit, that Twitter should be a neutral carrier? Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t feel like they do, and even if they do I don’t think that’s what they really mean.

The goal of this stuff seems more straightforward–to prove that Liberals use political power to oppress conservatives, and therefore it’s totes okay that conservatives should be oppressive whenever they can.


TM 12.13.22 at 9:18 am

engels: “banning Trump always seemed self-evidently ridiculous to me”

I don’t see why. Twitter announced rules of moderation that while less than perfect were transparent and made some sense. That Trump, after repeatedly violating those rules, was treated like any other user and banned doesn’t seem ridiculous to me. And neither did it appear ridiculous to Trump and his followers. It was probably the first time in many years that Trump was subjected to the same rules than other people, and that alone was worth it.


Alex SL 12.13.22 at 10:59 am


I know you really, really hate Twitter. But:

I just don’t see that I or most of the people in my network use Twitter as “discursive entrepreneurs, fighting with each other to “build their brands” in quantitative terms, keeping their customers satisfied by gratifying their shallowest desires etc”. We show each other photos of plants and animals (as biologists who are enthusiastic about our study groups), link to our papers as they are published, share job openings, announce when we move to a new job, and sometimes grumble about a bit about politics, mostly with regard to lack of funding for conservation or education. Your description of the network doesn’t exist on the same plane of reality as many people’s lived experience.

Also, “banning Trump seemed seemed self-evidently ridiculous to me” is really odd, without further explanation. I think many people on the US right implicitly make the argument that it is ridiculous to ban somebody for continually promoting hatred and disinformation, and ultimately the overthrow of democracy, because there are so many people in the USA who are in favour of spreading hatred and disinformation and installing an authoritarian government, and if there are enough people in favour of something then it must be okay, right? I assume that can’t be your argument, so I’d be curious to learn what it is.


engels 12.13.22 at 12:56 pm

I understand he was banned for these tweets—

“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”.

“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

—neither of which are incitement imho (or break any other rules).

I think there should be a very high bar for removing the elected leader of a nuclear-armed empire from a site whose declared purpose is “don’t miss what’s happening”.


engels 12.13.22 at 1:29 pm

Alex, perhaps you can do but you’re still discussing plants and animals in very short messages, which vanish if they don’t get a quick response, which are instantaneously and visibly scored for their popularity, etc. Not the ideal way to run a seminar imho and if it doesn’t cause competitiveness etc in your case I think you’re rather atypical.


Jonathan Monroe 12.13.22 at 1:31 pm

Having read some of the right-wing posts celebrating the Twitter files (including those by smart centrists who should know better like Marc Andreessen), the SHOCK HORROR SCANDAL that they are falsely claiming in the Twitter files is that Twitter was censoring pro-Republican talking points on instructions from the Deep State (and, in particular, the FBI) rather than on its own initiative.

Everyone who was paying attention knew that human moderation of English-language Twitter reflected the biases of the moderators, who were to the left of the median American voter (most English speakers with jobs are). It’s a private company, so no 1st amendment issue. The Twitter files were supposed to (but don’t) show that this was part of a government-led conspiracy which would raise 1st amendment issues. This is why the attacks on James Baker were so vicious – the best evidence they have that Twitter’s suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story was state action is that an ex-FBI agent was involved in it.


TM 12.13.22 at 2:39 pm

Salem 18: Do you think that there is indeed a scandal, and if yes, what does it consist in? I’m genuinely curious because the “Twitter files” don’t seem to contain anything at all contradicting Twitter’s publicly stated processes and guidelines.

“But if they were responsive because they wanted good relations with a future Biden administration, then we’re into the realms of power, coercion, and all that scandal.”
You are aware, aren’t you, that fearless investigative reporter Taibbi himself has admitted (but withheld the details) that Twitter in some instances “honored” moderation requests by the Trump administration. For some reason, Twitter responding to what might be called censorship requests by the actual government is no scandal but them removing dick pics by request of a non-government actor does constitute censorship.

I’m in no mood to rehash all the inconsistencies in this whole propaganda stint but I’ll say this: the most egregious if not scandalous detail that has come to light in the whole story is the fact that the Twitter CEO, who happens to be one of the richest men on earth, gave a selection of confidential business records to two right wing hacks in order for them to turn them into a pseudojournalistic scandal story, while denying actual requests by journalists to see those records. Since Musk is the owner, he may not have broken any laws when releasing the records (not sure whether privacy protections for employees might have applied – in the EU that would definitely be the case) but, as you say, conduct doesn’t have to be illegal to be scandalous. There definitely is a high level of hypocrisy and cynical power play involved.

Finally, the premise that Twitter has ever been biased against the Right is complete bullshit. Trump broke Twitter guidelines probably hundreds of times, repeating election lies several times a day, until he finally was banned. He was treated way more leniently than any regular user. And this:


nastywoman 12.13.22 at 6:38 pm

in the meantime:
‘Twitter’s Former Safety Head Forced From Home

On Saturday, Musk had implied in tweets that Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth — who is gay — has advocated for child sexualization. Roth and his family have since been forced from their home following a torrent of threats and harassment, the Washington Post reported Monday.

AND in San Francisco Musk being invited up on stage at a Dave Chapelle concert was heartily, loudly booed by the crowd. His response was funny crying about them all being far leftists –
and Marxists?!


Oscar the Grouch 12.13.22 at 9:03 pm

Colin, Bari Weiss’s Twitter thread speaks of Twitter as if it is a government agency in my opinion.

It’s hard to make sense of her objections otherwise.

Moreover, her objection is based on a failure of universal enforcement of Twitter’s policies, even though law enforcement itself doesn’t succeed at perfect universal enforcement of the law.

However, we’re talking about content moderation on a website. So it’s hard to make sense of her presuppositions.

I suspect you are correct that it will result in further indifference to whatever the right inflicts on those who disagree with them, as this is usually the case. E.g., the claim that J6 attack didn’t matter because of the BLM protests.

I hadn’t considered Salem’s point that we are better off applying liberal principles when we can in private arrangements

This is true a lot of the time. We do want a culture of liberal values so when questions of speech or access arise, we are usually better off informing ourselves with those values even if, strictly speaking, there is no authority which can enforce them.

A problem though is that even in those things officially regulated by liberal principles such as government, we expect some balance of concerns to shape or even restrict liberal principles–e.g., safety, privacy, etc. The Twitter files seems like it appeals to the right partly because they don’t consider the issue of safety, security or privacy to be an issue because the people being protected are people they dislike or even hate.

So even if you’re right, Salem, that some liberal principles come in justifiably to Twitter’s private corporate policies (which they clearly have or there would be no oversight of moderation) then consider that considerations of safety and the security of the election plus a fear of widening the rewards of illegal conduct such as hacking, and invasions of privacy are all things the Twitter gatekeepers were agonizing over. These are all legitimate liberty-limiting concerns. This isn’t a legal proceeding, and we don’t have perfect methods for this process when it comes to the internet anyway. We are counting on platforms to be self-regulating. They weren’t inventing the possibility of threats or hacking or privacy violations, etc. People sympathetic to the right do not see a mob at the capital threatening to hang Pence, etc. as a danger but lots of others did without doing so in bad faith. They don’t see taking a laptop and revealing its contents, including salacious photos to be an illegal act of hacking which Twitter made a prior promisevnot to encourage — but it’s not like raising this possibility is a mere talking point. People deciding Twitter’s policies are reasonably afraid of the violent rhetoric of Nazis, etc. leading to actual violence. They aren’t just leveraging concerns about election manipulation by releasing hacked material to mess with people they don’t like. They don’t want Twitter to be a tool for those ends.

But only some people are potentially harmed by these actions. And this may be the issue for those sympathetic to the Twitter files–they aren’t concerned about those people, and want them defeated. In a non-legal process that is non-governmental judgments of those sympathetic to a certain conception of harm counted. Isn’t that what always happens on the internet? Content moderation requires the use of human judgment, and it depends on who matters.

Related to your point, one of the very disorienting things to me, as someone who thought that maximizing free speech through the internet would have instrumental value is how much disinformation on Twitter and elsewhere throws that into question. Besides the rights of individuals Salem you’re talking about a certain kind of society, one where people are given wide latitude to share ideas. Besides individual rights, weren’t we supposed to be confident that people would be motivated by truth, and rationality and evidence would be the coins of the realm? What do we do now when things like how many people speak are more decisive, and you are so overwhelmed with bots and trolls you can’t find a fact to save your life? We need to stop pretending that the ideal free speech environment in one form –writing and speaking where opposing arguments can be heard, let’s say–is identical to the free speech environment in every form.

I am not sure what to do about this but if free speech depends on a system of communication and we partly want free speech for its benefits, and the kind of society it creates what do we do when some can game the system? If free speech depends on our capacity of evaluation what if there’s a way to hack that as well? If that’s an actual problem, then the ideal free speech situation isn’t one of minimal coercion where rules are a hindrance, it might be one where there are a lot of rules. That’s the dilemma that content moderators are faced with, and the attempt to destroy content moderation that depend on principles that are a hindrance to speech in one context can sometimes be another way to game the system.


engels 12.14.22 at 1:31 pm

Not sure why my reply to Alex vanished? Twitter is Very Big so “many people” can use it in abnormal ways without that being at all typical or even relevant in the larger scheme of things. Even so, you’re posting your plant and animal observations in a bite-sized spurts, that quickly dip off the front page if no one notices them, that are continuously and visibly scored for popularity, etc, which doesn’t seem an ideal way to run a conference/seminar.


MisterMr 12.14.22 at 1:56 pm

@engels 25

This is twitter’s page about the suspension:

The relevant tweets are indeed the ones you cite, the explanation is

Due to the ongoing tensions in the United States, and an uptick in the global conversation in regards to the people who violently stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, these two Tweets must be read in the context of broader events in the country and the ways in which the President’s statements can be mobilized by different audiences, including to incite violence, as well as in the context of the pattern of behavior from this account in recent weeks. After assessing the language in these Tweets against our Glorification of Violence policy, we have determined that these Tweets are in violation of the Glorification of Violence Policy and the user @realDonaldTrump should be immediately permanently suspended from the service.

Do you disagree that Trump was inciting violence in that context?


engels 12.14.22 at 3:16 pm

Afaics that explanation doesn’t even claim they are incitement but “glorification of violence” which is something different (not causative and not usually illegal) but I don’t read them that way. The legal incitement charges (which failed) were based on a speech iirc, not tweets (and I don’t think the US court system is so broken that Trump can evade criminal prosecution or that corporations should therefore step in).

And surely it can’t be as simple as incitement (to violence?/criminal activity?) gets anyone banned or they”d have to ban the Pentagon and the CIA.


TM 12.14.22 at 3:54 pm

And Mr. Musk has threatened employees with lawsuits if they talk to the media and “act in a manner contrary to the company’s interest,” according to an internal email sent last Friday.
Freedom of speech…


engels 12.14.22 at 4:10 pm

“Glorification of violence”—will they be deleting all those IDF tweets celebrating their gay drone operators etc?


J, not that one 12.14.22 at 5:45 pm

engels @ 24

My understanding of the algorithm is that if you follow your friends and colleagues, and like or retweet their posts, their posts stay at the top of your list, along with any other people you follow and retweet, with the most globally popular weighted more heavily, all things considered. If this weren’t the case, unless Alex’s friends were all world celebrities, they would never see one another’s tweets, and they would notice, and the platform would be unusable for them. As it is, they can even maintain the fiction that they are personally globally popular. Thus, a lot of work by users can create a semi-private space on the platform, for people who have no idea what anything looks like to other people.


Alex SL 12.14.22 at 8:30 pm

Thanks. Your argument re Twitter boils down to: if people can use something in good or bad ways, that thing is bad and should be shut down.

Your argument re Trump is indeed that if enough or important enough people do something, then it should not be censured. Because you are right – of course extremely important institutions get away with things that others don’t. Trump was too important as a president, so he wasn’t banned for behaviour that got many others banned, but when he tried to establish a dictatorship on 6 January 2021, Twitter leadership calculated that he had crossed enough of a line that they could and should finally ban him after all.

Tragically, powerful and extremely rich people can get away with things that Jane and Joe Average can’t, so yes, life is unfair, and the pope is Catholic. Question is now, does that mean that we should work towards where rules apply equally to everybody, or should we work towards where they apply to nobody, and there are no safeguards against harm whatsoever, as the statement “banning somebody the day after he tried to overthrow democracy was ridiculous” implies?


SusanC 12.17.22 at 7:40 pm

I can see two aspects to this:

The FBI, a government entity, was “asking” Twitter to suppress speech that was 1A protected. I think the FBI really should not be doing that. It strongly hints at a 1A violation. (e.g. if there was an implied threat that the government would retaliate against twitter if it did not suppress protected speech; or if there was an implied bribe, that the government would give twitter preferential treatment, or favorable legislation, if it did the government’s bidding).

It’s kind of looking like a racketerring case. “Nice business Mr. Dorset, shame if anything were to happen to it.” —> evidence of rackettering, even if the threat isn’t completely explicit. Similarly here, the question is whether the US government was corecng twitter in a manner simiar to a mobster requesting protection money,


SusanC 12.17.22 at 7:45 pm

This is a dent to Twitter’s journalistic reputation, even if not illegal.

So, you have a choice of newpapers, of varying political persuasion and accuracy. If you discover your newspaper is too partisan or inaccurate, you could take your business elesewhere.

There’s less competition in the social media market, of course, but for the moment I’ll set aside the argument that twitter is a natural monopoly and ought to be government regulated. We might see the “twitter files” as an argument that twitter users ought to take their business elsewhere, because of :
a) over willingness to go along with government requests to suppress 1a protected speech. A newspaper that toadies to the government may not be what you want to read.
b) naked partisanship,


SusanC 12.17.22 at 7:50 pm


sometimes, supressing evidence of a crime is itself criminal (sometimes, more criminal than the original crime itself). “Conspiracy to pervert the course of justice” in the UK, Sarbanes-Oxley in the US itself.

Now, twitter conspiring to hide evidence of potential illegality from the FBI might actually have been criminal. But here, the FBI already knew all Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Still, there is something of a notion that hiding evidence of a possible crime from the voters for partisan reasons is, at least, immoral, even if it isn’t criminal,


SusanC 12.17.22 at 7:54 pm

P.S. – track Elon Musk’s jet on Mastodon.

Musk is clearly a hypocrite about free speech.


engels 12.20.22 at 10:14 pm

“Glorification of violence”

In his email, Kahler sent a spreadsheet with 52 accounts. He asked for priority service for six of the accounts, including @yemencurrent, an account used to broadcast announcements about U.S. drone strikes in Yemen. Around the same time, @yemencurrent, which has since been deleted, had emphasized that U.S. drone strikes were “accurate” and killed terrorists, not civilians, and promoted the U.S. and Saudi-backed assault on Houthi rebels in that country. Other accounts on the list were focused on promoting U.S.-supported militias in Syria and anti-Iran messages in Iraq….


MisterMr 12.21.22 at 11:55 am

@engels 42

Well, glorification of political violence inside the country, not of the violence the country itself is doing on the outside, which falls out of the justice system. This is how nation states work.


TM 12.21.22 at 1:27 pm

SusanC: “The FBI, a government entity, was “asking” Twitter to suppress speech that was 1A protected.”

You mean the FBI, a government entity, whose director was appointed by Trump, during the Trump administration, was asking to suppress freedom of speech? Let’s give praise to fascist apologists Taibbi, Weiss, and Musk, for unmasking this vast left-wing woke cancel culture conspiracy scandal!


TM 12.21.22 at 3:07 pm

To clarify further to 38, I’m not commenting on the veracity of the FBI-claim because the journalists have been denied access to the documents in question. But if the claim is true, it refers to actions by the Trump administration that for very mysterious reasons are discussed without mentioning that they are actions of the Trump administration, and sometimes are even directly attributed to – Biden.

“the question is whether the US government was corecng twitter in a manner simiar to a mobster requesting protection money” Was the US government under Trump’s presidency coercing Twitter in a manner similar to a mobster requesting protection money? Good question, what’s your answer?


engels 12.21.22 at 9:13 pm

MisterMr, I’m sure you’re right that that’s roughly how it must work but it makes a nonsense of the stated rationale, which is to avoid inspiring others: plenty of people (“legitimate” military and civilian criminals) have been inspired to commit violent acts by glorification of the military.


TM 12.22.22 at 3:36 pm

You are absolutely right engels. State violence is treated differently (both by the law and by mainstream society) than private violence. You are right to point that out but it’s hardly news.


engels 12.23.22 at 2:23 pm

Ideology rarely is. (It’s worth noting there’s a of inconsistency even in the treatment of states though.)


engels 12.23.22 at 9:15 pm

“You can’t fight in here gentlemen, this the war building”

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