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Opinion >  Column

Sue Lani Madsen: Twitter storms open floodgates to free speech

In the Age of Information, Twitter became a source of misinformation more than the free-speech zone it aspired to be. That changed when Elon Musk bought the company. Free speech runneth over like a sunny Sunday afternoon at Hyde Park’s famous Speaker’s Corner. Twitter is now hosting lively threads with formerly suppressed news on Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings, COVID medical debates and Gov. Inslee’s ongoing COVID vaccine mandate for state workers.

For the three-quarters of Americans who are not tweeters, the purchase of Twitter by a man who proclaimed allegiance to free speech was like an asteroid hitting the earth. Musk unblocked people who had been kicked off Twitter for ostensibly spreading misinformation. Then he started releasing internal Twitter documents to journalists known for being willing to buck the official party line.

In the case of Twitter, that party line has been notoriously very blue. So blue that journalists began threatening to leave the platform when free speech returned.

And now that everyone on Twitter can read the behind-the-scenes emails and chat threads, it’s clear the party line was not only blue, but heavily influenced by the FBI, CIA and the Department of Homeland Security starting at least as far back as 2016.

The impact wasn’t technically government censorship in violation of the First Amendment, but the pressure was clear and the communication extensive. The “Twitter Files” document regular meetings between Twitter staff and federal agents, with requests to suppress what was deemed “misinformation” and advisories to be on the lookout for foreign disinformation campaigns that turned out to be a red herring.

When the New York Post broke the story in October 2020 about a laptop the younger Biden left for repairs and failed to pick up for over a year, their account was locked. Sharing the story was blocked. Emails and photos that incriminated the younger Biden in activities both illegal and distasteful have now been validated as his. References to a kickback to “the big guy” indicated potential involvement by his father in influence peddling schemes are being examined. The impact of the story was not acknowledged in the New York Times or Washington Post until April 2022, and now we know why. According to Matt Taibbi, the man to whom Musk released Twitter’s inside communications for publication, Twitter responded to pressure from Democrats and the FBI to kill the story. Or as the New York Post put in a gleeful I-told-you-so story that ran Dec. 16: “FBI and other law enforcement organizations treated Twitter as a ‘subsidiary,’ flagging numerous accounts for purportedly harmful ‘misinformation’ since January of 2020, according to the sixth installment of the ‘Twitter Files.’ ”

So why should regular newspaper readers care about Twitter and the Twitter Files? Because while only about 25% of Americans use Twitter, over 70% of journalists do. People who shape the news hang out in the Twitter tar pits, along with every government entity tweeting out public information campaigns.

Or, as the files are showing in some cases, disinformation campaigns. Voices of medical experts practicing science by questioning the official hypotheses were simply blocked, again in response to government pressure amplified by the overwhelmingly blue-leaning staff at Twitter. Suppressing alternative voices and in some cases even suppressing tweets highlighting inconvenient CDC data has contributed to public distrust of public health officials. Musk reopened blocked accounts and the COVID discussion nationally and internationally is now more robust. Open debate is essential in a free society.

In Washington state, Twitter is now the center of a local storm over what Gov. Jay Inslee knew about fading vaccine efficacy and when he knew it. According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Ari Hoffman and posted on Twitter this week, public health officials were discussing the “faded illusion of vaccination” and how “breakthrough cases are becoming the norm” in July 2021 while Gov. Inslee was derisively telling Washingtonians who had not been vaccinated “you are a bioreactor facility generating virus & spreading it around.”

On Dec. 26, Hoffman (@thehoffather) of the Post Millennial, a conservative Canadian online news magazine, started releasing the documents in long Twitter threads. A Seattle area radio talk-show host and former candidate for Seattle City Council, Hoffman describes himself as an independent who used to be a Democrat. On Dec. 27, he posted this tweet with screenshots of the official emails: “Snohomish County officials in a 7/30/21 email with chief of Seattle & King County Public Health Jeff Duchin discussed ‘breakthrough cases,’ a week before Democrat Governor Jay Inslee instituted vax mandates claiming it would stop the spread.”

Hoffman is continuing to release more documents in this developing story. In the coming weeks, Dr. Umair Shah, Washington state Secretary of Health and Inslee will have to respond as more FOIA documents circulate on Twitter. Local and regional journalists will have to vigorously press for answers that may uncomfortably stray from the blue narrative. And the general public is now part of the conversation again. Long live free speech.

Contact Sue Lani Madsen at

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