They tell us what we already knew but bring into focus the mindset of the professional left.
The Twitter Files have exposed how a powerful class of like-minded people control and limit the flow of information to advantage their monolithically progressive agenda.
The Twitter Files tell us nothing new. There’s no shocking revelation in there about government censorship or covert manipulation by political campaigns. They merely bring to the surface the internal deliberations of a company dealing with complex issues in ways consistent with its values.
If you think the first paragraph is true, you must be a tinfoil-hat wearing member of the vast right-wing conspiracy destroying our democracy. If you think the second is true, you’re a credulous apologist for the elite left-wing ideologues destroying our democracy.
If you think both are true, congratulations. You’re a reader of uncommon genius and perspicacity.
Unlike much of the media, which have chosen to ignore or deride it, we should welcome Elon Musk’s exercise in transparency. It is a fitting statement on the condition of modern journalism that many journalists profess disdain when an influential company opens up its internal documents on controversial topics for review and publication by journalists.
That said, I have a quibble: It would have been better to be fully transparent and publish as many of the original documents as possible with context, rather than have the disclosed information intermediated in ways that have enabled critics to cry foul. One example—citing the way Twitter “handled” explicit pictures of Hunter Biden as evidence of political bias rather than as enforcement of reasonable rules about privacy and decency undercuts the larger argument and enables detractors to dismiss the exercise as itself politically motivated.
I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that transparency is valuable for understanding the way an influential institution operates. But it is also true that there is little in these revelations we didn’t already know or surmise, though it does seem that the company’s previous denials that it engaged in shadow banning—quietly restraining the dissemination of certain users’ tweets—were at best a case of being economical with the truth.
There is, however, something instructive in the documents: They provide a valuable picture of the minds of those who make decisions about what gets amplified and what gets suppressed in our public discourse. While there were some dissenters at the company, the key decisions almost all went the way you would expect.
What we get is an unsettling insight into the approach to knowledge by which our cultural elites operate—what we might call an epistemological asymmetry between progressive ideologues and and the rest of us.
It’s not that executives, editors, reporters and algorithm-writers at big media and tech companies consciously promote their ideological nostrums, mindful of and striving to overcome competing ideas. It’s much worse. If you’re an executive at Twitter with the Orwellian title of “head of trust and safety” or a “disinformation” and “extremism” reporter at NBC News, or an executive at the New York Times charged with enforcing intellectual homogeneity, you’re not simply promoting a view of the world that you espouse.
You are doing something much more important, which compels compliance and tolerates no alternatives: promulgating the One True Faith, a set of orthodoxies from which there is no legitimate dissent.
Here is the asymmetry: Most conservatives, or intellectually curious people, don’t think like this. They don’t think that someone with differing opinions on say, immigration restrictions, the right level of taxation, or the case for affirmative action is voicing a provably false and intrinsically illegitimate view that amounts to misinformation. They think their opponents’ beliefs are wrong and reflect flawed analysis or erroneous evidence. But they don’t think there is only one acceptable belief and that dissent from it is analytically impossible, intellectually dishonest and morally contemptible.
But this is the left’s mindset. It is why they don’t need instructions from government officials or public censors to determine access to information. They are themselves the controlling authority. They act in ways that are reminiscent of the pre-Enlightenment certitudes of the clerisy. They have a moral and normative view of knowledge that seeks to disfavor, suppress and ultimately extirpate heresy.
Twitter occupies an absurdly inflated amount of space in the minds of people in the media, myself included. While the decisions it makes about who or what to promote or suppress obsess us, its actions impinge little on the deliberations of most Americans. It is a private company and, in accordance with the principles of a free market, should be free to do what it wishes.
These revelations matter, however, not because of anything they tell us about Twitter. They matter because they show the way an entire generation of people who occupy positions of influence think about knowledge, truth and opinion.
Appeared in the December 13, 2022, print edition as ‘Twitter Files Revelations Are Instructive but Not Surprising’.