By Micah MEADOWCROFT
You were right. You knew you were right. They knew you were right. They knew you knew you were right. And now we know. There’s proof. The “Twitter Files” confirm that behind the cloak of the algorithm, liberal employees of the tech giant were turning a nature preserve into their personal petting zoo, hiding the Hunter Biden laptop story, shadowbanning dissenting voices, and kicking a sitting president off the platform contrary to their own protocols. And, yes, they were up to their neck in government contacts, from the White House to the FBI, who requested and directed the restriction and manipulation of the public square. Now, of course, we are told by their colleagues in media and politics that these revelations are anticlimactic, that everyone knew Twitter had quality control procedures that, sure, might be described as shadowbanning but aren’t technically, since they get to make up the definitions. This, they insist, was all normal, things working as they were supposed to.
Twitter presents us with a case study in the most pressing problem of our digital age. As technology has grown both in capacities and use, it has seemed to outstrip human scale and to mediate every aspect of human life, to the point where it might cease to be an object of human intention and will. Instead of a tool, it has begun to appear, whether in the form of bureaucratized corporations or even greater abstractions like the global market, as almost a sort of god, subjecting humanity to a will of its own. But as C.S. Lewis reminded us in The Abolition of Man, the growing power of science or technology over biological nature is in fact the growing power of some men over other men. Which means then that the apparent absence of human responsibility we associate with current technological order is only that, appearance. The human beneath such scale is obscure, but technologies are made by human hands, so it is never truly absent.
Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter presents us with a positive reminder of this truth. A human individual, given the chance (money) and sufficient boldness and a drive for reform and mastery, can in fact lift Antaeus from the earth and wrestle a tech giant into submission. Musk’s fight is not over, and the Twitter Files are themselves an attack on the joints and sinews of his opponent, but he has shown thus far that he has the energy to continue through every round and will throw old Twitter from the ring. In this we see Musk exercise real power, for the true human sense of the word requires that two elements be present: energy capable of arresting inertia and redirecting the ordering of things, and an awareness of that potential, the will to achieve specific goals. This striving and power is a sort of celebration of the human spirit, the reality in the human individual that allows us to extricate ourselves from the immediacy of biological processes to shape ourselves and the natural world with technology in the first place.
If you have followed this story at all you will have heard by now that the release of the Twitter Files has painted a target on people’s back. This is usually in specific reference to Yoel Roth, who has reportedly fled his home under threat, since he is the most likely to ever face serious consequences for his actions while head of Twitter’s Trust and Safety team. And in Roth and the other minor villains of the Twitter Files we are presented with the negative reminder of human responsibility. Like the claims by establishment hacks that everyone already knew that a private company was working with government officials to suppress and shape public discourse—a classic it’s not happening and it’s good that it is—the claim that Roth and others mentioned in chat screenshots and Twitter disclosures are being “targeted” is a twisting of the truth. It is to admit that these individuals are responsible, that they used their power against fiduciary responsibilities, free inquiry, and the spirit of American law for their personal political preferences in what had become a de facto public square; it is to claim, however, that it is wrong of us to notice this.
But we must notice this, and Congress should investigate, for there are individuals at Twitter who should be held accountable, responsible, for all sorts of things. As the disclosures of the other, older source of Twitter revelations, the whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, have made clear, there were no significant internal controls at Twitter that might have rectified these actions or punished the perpetrators. Indeed, Zatko, who was only concerned with basic security and best practices—Twitter is riddled with spies from around the world and its development process was a certified mess—was fired when he sought to inform Twitter’s board of a situation executives like Parag Agrawal had been lying to them about for months. As he continues his fight, like Genghis Khan, Musk might say to Twitter’s executives, “If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.” The Twitter Files are not enough, though.
If there is to be real transparency, a real reckoning, real investigations and hearings about election interference and government instigated censorship, then Musk should release all the available documents without mediation, and let Twitter’s users loose to pore over them in search of human individuals responsible for technology. Congress, regulators, civil suits, all could use the help.