Dec 11, 2022 - Technology

The #TwitterFiles Rorschach test

Illustration of the Twitter logo as a Rorschach test

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Twitter Files, a set of internal documents shared by Elon Musk with two outside reporters, purports to share an objective history of how Twitter operated under prior management. But instead it's become a political Rorschach test.

Why it matters: Reaction to the Twitter Files has been more revelatory than the disclosures themselves, although that could be my own confirmation bias coming through.

Catch up quick: Musk provided unprecedented access to writers Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss. Both reporters shared their materials via lengthy Twitter threads, rather than on their own Substack newsletters.

  • Taibbi's initial contribution focused on the New York Post's Hunter Biden laptop story, including Twitter's decision to suspend the newspaper's account and to block users from sharing its article. A subsequent thread was on moderation discussions in the weeks leading up to January 6, followed on Saturday night by related information from two other authors.
  • Weiss focused on what she referred to as "Twitter's secret blacklists," with plans on Sunday to disclose information on the decision to ban former President Trump.

On the right: The Twitter Files are being held up as proof that Twitter took deliberate actions to limit access to information and voices that could damage Democrats.

  • The most salient argument here is that Twitter put its thumb on the scale by removing certain prominent accounts from trending, being amplified or found via search. Even if the intent wasn't partisan, the impact was.

On the left: The Twitter Files are being dismissed as much ado about nothing, or at least about things that the company disclosed years ago.

  • Defenders note that Twitter's terms of service say the company limits certain posts' reach in select cases, and that Musk himself advocates a similar policy. They add that Weiss provided anecdotes, rather than a comprehensive investigation, so it's impossible to conclude that such limitations were slanted in one direction.

In the middle: For most users, more interested in the World Cup or that new Netflix show, their view of the Twitter Files may be determined by whichever take is shared most in their feed. Or they just won't care at all.

The bottom line: The Twitter Files shouldn't be a Rorschach test, particularly if Musk ever releases all of the documents to the public. But, in the end, this isn't about facts. It's about feelings.

Go deeper