The Bangor Daily News, as part of its intrepid coverage of the enemies list Sen. Angus King provided to large social media companies, made a surprising claim.
Twitter, it claimed, is biased against liberals and disproportionately amplifies the messages of conservatives.
The source for that odd claim? Why, Twitter itself! Or at least, an academic study Twitter commissioned several years ago, was involved with, and has touted in the past.
Here’s the relevant quote from the BDN:
“The communications were made public on Saturday as part of an ongoing release of certain internal documents known as the “Twitter Files” overseen by new CEO Elon Musk and independent journalists who share his view that the site suppressed conservative viewpoints, even though Twitter’s own research shows right-leaning outlets see more amplification.”
Let’s begin with the last item: Twitter’s own research shows right-leaning outlets see more amplification.
First, Twitter’s claims about its platform pre-Elon Musk’s acquisition aren’t exactly the most trustworthy sources of information. That’s the entire point of the Twitter Files. It took Musk dropping $44 billion to acquire the company and turn whistleblower for journalists and the American public to have a window into how the company was manipulating news cycles and elections. We now know that Twitter wasn’t exactly honest about its censorship decisions or its collaboration with federal officials. So sourcing the provocative claim that Twitter actually boosts right-wing voices to Twitter itself is dubious.
Second, who is the author of this post at Twitter? Luca Belli — now a former Twitter employee per her LinkedIn page. “I left Twitter 1.0 a few weeks back when I decided not to be part of what’s next,” she wrote on LinkedIn. Apparently she, like many other progressive Twitter employees, was scared off by Musk’s stated desire to have Twitter be a neutral playing field. Further, when you examine the academic paper upon which the claim is based, the authors readily acknowledge that their findings could be the result not of algorithmic bias on Twitter’s part, but a result of differing strategies pursued by conservative and liberal outlets. For example, an article from Vox entitled, “How ObamaCare Affects Morbidly Obese Community College Students,” is less likely to generate clicks and attention than an article from the NY Post entitled, “Hunter Biden’s Abandoned Laptop Reveals International Business Dealings Leveraged Dad’s Office.”
Which raises a third point: Even if you accept Twitter’s claim that its algorithm amplifies right-leaning media sources, that ignores the fact that former President Donald Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, former Project Veritas head James O’Keefe, Steve Bannon, the Babylon Bee, Roger Stone, Zero Hedge, and several other large conservative accounts have been banned from the platform, sometimes temporarily but often permanently. Many of these bans did not follow clear policy violations. Again, thanks to the Twitter Files, we now know Twitter employees would often massage the rules in order to justify bans they wanted to implement for political reasons.
From Twitter’s study, it does not appear that the outright elimination of conservative accounts factored into the analysis. Nor does the analysis take into consideration individual influencer accounts, which are often more influential in driving media narratives and news cycles. The study only looked at tweets that contained links to news stories. And on that front, it also ignores the specific example of the New York Post’s pre-2020 election reporting on Hunter Biden, against which Twitter took extraordinary censorship measures.
Lastly, if Twitter was so great for conservative voices and amplified conservative news outlets disproportionately, then why the hew and cry from liberal Democrats over Musk’s desire to turn the platform into a level playing field? Shouldn’t the Daily Beast, NPR, and the New York Times be celebrating a level playing field and the end to this advantage conservatives have in getting attention on Twitter?
No, the truth is that Twitter for years boosted left-wing voices, and shadowbanned and de-amplified conservative voices, including the New York Post, Trump, and many others. Anyone remotely familiar with the platform understands this. Simply tossing out a link to an old Twitter blog to cast the Twitter Files revelations as discredited or Musk as a partisan actor doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the reportage on Sen. Angus King’s enemies list. Whether Twitter’s algorithm benefits right-leaning outlets or left-leaning outlets really has no bearing on the information we now have about King’s 2018 campaign tactics. BDN only cites the paper as a signal to liberal readers that: “This is coming from icky Elon Musk and his right-wing radicals, so you can ignore it because they’re wrong.”
So who is carrying out this right-wing water carrying for Musk? Matt Taibbi, former writer for that conservative publication Rolling Stone magazine… The BDN isn’t the first left-leaning media outlet to try to undermine Taibbi’s work or the contents of the Twitter Files by insinuating the Taibbi is some right-wing hack. The Washington Post was widely ridiculed for putting that label on him, and the paper later edited the adjective out without comment.
Taibbi is, of course, a Bernie Sanders-endorsing liberal. He’s written acerbic criticisms of former President Donald Trump, devastating indictments of the New York Police Department officers involved in the killing of Eric Garland, and critical reviews of politicians from everywhere on the political spectrum. He just happens to be a great journalist, regardless of his target at any given moment. But when that target happens to be progressive politicians, as is the case with King, Taibbi, and his patron Musk, are transmogrified into ULTRA MAGA CONS!!!
The BDN’s framing of the story looks like a deliberate effort by an editor to distract from the facts at hand and paint King in the most favorable light. The lack of skepticism for King’s office’s explanations is astounding. Even if you believe King’s spokesman, his claims only compound the issue. The senator owes his constituents a more thorough explanation of how his campaign worked with social media companies to censor critics, and the BDN owes its readers a more fulsome treatment of the revelations contained in the Twitter Files.