Republicans Swing and Miss on Hunter Biden and Twitter
Mother Jones; Drew Angerer/Getty
Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.House Republicans spent much of their first big oversight committee hearing Wednesday attacking Twitter for denying American voters the chance to look at Hunter Biden’s penis.
The lawmakers’ pro-dick-pic position was probably inadvertent. But that is where they landed. The hearing failed to produce any evidence to support the central allegation advanced by committee chair, Rep. Jim Comer (R-Ky.): That Twitter “colluded” with the Biden campaign in October 2020 to suppress a New York Post story on Hunter’s work for a Ukrainian gas company. Instead, the former Twitter executives who testified made the opposite point: Neither the Biden campaign nor the FBI had asked Twitter to suppress the Post’s story, they all testified. They said that it was simply Twitter’s decision—a decision the company has already conceded was a mistake.
The hearing had a grandiose title: “Protecting Speech from Government Interference and Social Media Bias, Part 1: Twitter’s Role in Suppressing the Biden Laptop Story.” But as Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.), the panel’s top Democrat, pointed out in his opening statement, Twitter, a private company, was exercising its own speech rights in curating its own content. “If Twitter wants to have nothing but tweets commenting on New York Post articles run all day, it can do that; and if it makes it so tweets mentioning the New York Post never see the light of day, it can do that too,” Raskin said. “That’s what the First Amendment means.”
It quickly became clear that while GOP lawmakers had read the “Twitter Files” threads Elon Musk facilitated, they didn’t have much relevant information to add. Hours in, it fell to Rep. Becca Balint, a freshman Democrat from Vermont, to sum things up. “My Republican colleagues know that the premise of this whole hearing is misleading,” Balint said. “There is no evidence that the Biden campaign had anything to do with the Hunter Biden New York Post story.”
Balint: “I believe that what’s happening her is my Republican colleagues know that the premise of this whole hearing is misleading. There is no evidence that the Biden campaign had anything to do with the Hunter Biden New York Post story.” pic.twitter.com/50Lk3BYl4w
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 8, 2023
Without support for their primary contention, the GOP committee members were left attacking Twitter on other grounds – or struggling to insinuate that contacts Twitter did have with federal agents and the Biden campaign in 2020 related to the Hunter Biden story
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), for instance, pressed Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of Trust and Safety, on his regular contacts with FBI agents, who sometimes used a one-way communications tool they called a “Teleporter link” to share information. The FBI routinely talks to many social media companies about foreign influence efforts and other material on their sites. Roth said talking to law enforcement was part of his job. But Jordan wanted to know: Did the FBI ask Twitter to block the Post’s story? No, Roth said, they did not. Jordan nevertheless, offered his opinion: “I think you guys got played by the FBI…They send you documents on the super-secret James Bond teleporter. You get information on that. I think you guys wanted to take it down.”
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), minutes later, seemed to think he had a gotcha. How, Donalds asked, could Roth explain October 24, 2020, emails in which other Twitter officials talked about handling a Biden campaign request to take down certain tweets.
“My understanding is that these tweets contained nonconsensual nude photos of Hunter Biden, and they were removed by the company under our terms of service,” Roth replied.
Here Donalds tried to pounce. “How could you know so much about the content of these tweets,” he asked. “As far as I’m concerned these are just web addresses. I don’t know what’s in these tweets. You have these things committed to memory?”
Roth responded: “There was extensive public reporting about tweets specifically that uncovered what they were.”
Indeed, when journalist Matt Taibbi published the installment of the “Twitter Files” that Donalds was relying on, Mother Jones, along with others, used the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, freely available to Rep. Donalds and GOP staff, to see what those specific tweets contained. I wrote then: “Three of them featured explicit images of Hunter Biden. One doesn’t work. Another is a video, which won’t play now, but probably showed sexual activity. All of those I was able to access violated Twitter’s rules.”
The explicit images from Biden’s laptop were not posted by random Twitter users. They were distributed at the behest of Steve Bannon by people working under the direction of Bannon’s ally, exiled Chinese mogul Guo Wengui. Guo, we have reported, oversaw an extensive, international effort to publicize explicit images of Hunter Biden and also to accompany them with lies about what other material on Biden’s laptop supposedly showed. That effort certainly violated Twitter’s terms of service, which prohibit posting “explicit sexual images or videos of someone online without their consent,” as well as “coordinated harmful activity” by “individuals associated with a group, movement, or campaign” aimed at damaging someone else.
Donalds and his colleagues may not have initially known it, but they were berating Twitter for taking down dick pics.