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Season 2023 Episode 17 | 1h 54m 23s | Video has closed captioning.
Elon Musk’s long and often troubled relationship with Twitter. FRONTLINE traces Musk’s journey from one of the platform’s most provocative users to its sole proprietor, exploring the acquisition, free speech issues and the company’s uncertain future.
Elon Musk's Twitter Takeover
Season 2023 Episode 17
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Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by the Ford Foundation. Additional funding …
Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by the Ford Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Abrams Foundation; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Park Foundation; and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation, and additional support from Koo and Patricia Yuen.
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>> Elon Musk is in control of Twitter… >> He'’ll have no shareholders to answer to.
>> He says he wants to transform the company… >> Elon Musk has one rule, that guides him, which is never be constrained by the rules.
>> NARRATOR: Correspondent James Jacoby investigates Elon Musk'’s expanding influence… >> I am trying to do good for humanity and the future of civilization.
>> NARRATOR: With company insiders… >> What was it like for you?
>> For the first time in a long time I was terrified.
>> NARRATOR: And industry experts.
>> I thought he'’d be a good owner.
>> Because he has the money, the means, and the creativity.
>> NARRATOR: How he is changing the social media platform… >> We must protect free speech.
>> I'’ve never seen a billionaire own a media platform that so obviously is using it as a personal platform.
>> NARRATOR: And the implications for free speech.
>> Since Musk took over what would you say your main findings have been?
>> Number one, I would say harassment has increased.
>> …massive re-branding of Twitter… >> …misleading posts about the ongoing Israeli Palestinian conflict… >> This guy, amazing success story — who decided to go buy Twitter because he cares so much about the First Amendment.
>> Foreign disinformation, do you agree that's a threat?
>> Yeah, no one appreciates that.
But the First Amendment's the First Amendment.
>> NARRATOR: Now on FRONTLINE… >> Elon Musk!
>> …the world'’s richest man… >> …has outdone himself… >> Elon Musk… >> NARRATOR: "“Elon Musk'’s Twitter Takeover.
"” >> He wants to shake things up… >> When things are calm, he seeks out storms.
>> Launch auto-sequence initiated– A.K.A.
the holy mouse-click– for 3:45 liftoff, #FalconHeavy.
(tweet posts) ♪ ♪ (crowd cheering and applauding) >> Launch direct on countdown one.
This is SpaceX Falcon Heavy, go for launch.
>> Ten, nine, eight… >> Side booster ignition.
>> Six… >> JAMES JACOBY: It had all the elements of a perfect day for Elon Musk.
>> Two, one!
Go, Falcon Heavy!
>> JACOBY: A test launch of his latest reusable rocket, the most powerful in the world, capable of deep space exploration.
>> (cheering loudly) >> JACOBY: It was a crucial step toward his ultimate goal, the conquest of Mars.
>> Elon Musk, I think, gets his most pleasure out of rocket ships.
And at moments when the rockets go off, that's when the childish pleasure comes out.
(crowd cheering loudly) >> T plus 30 seconds, if you can hear me over the cheering, Falcon Heavy heading to space on her test flight.
>> He doesn't usually like having pleasure.
He doesn't savor the moment.
But he does when it's a rocket launch.
>> Camera views from inside the payload fairing, #FalconHeavy.
(tweet posts) >> JACOBY: Throughout the day, Musk provided running commentary at his favorite place to express himself, the social media site Twitter.
>> Upper stage restart nominal, apogee raised to 7,000 kilometers.
(tweet posts) >> He's a performer, he likes it.
He likes it, he likes playing Elon…
I swear, he thinks he's Iron Man.
(crowd cheering and applauding) >> JACOBY: Right on cue, Musk's rocket discharged his own cherry red Tesla, complete with a mannequin in the driver's seat.
>> (cheering) >> Elon Musk has outdone himself this time.
>> Normally, for a new rocket, you know, it launched like a block of concrete.
I mean, that's so boring.
(laughs) It's still tripping me out.
I mean, I'm trippin' balls here.
(laughs) >> JACOBY: The electric car and the reusable rocket were part of a vast business empire– from neurotechnology to artificial intelligence to a web of satellites encircling the Earth– that has made Elon Musk one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.
>> View from SpaceX Launch Control.
Apparently, there is a car in orbit around Earth.
(tweet posts) >> JACOBY: And the app he was using to live-tweet the launch– a few years later, that would be his, too.
>> Elon Musk puts in an offer to buy Twitter.
>> Elon Musk and Twitter announced a $44 billion deal today… >> He says he wants to transform the company.
>> Well, I think it's very important for there to be an inclusive arena for free speech.
>> JACOBY: For the past six months, we've been investigating Elon Musk's controversial purchase of Twitter, how it's expanded his influence into politics at a time of deep division across America… >> Now we've got someone who's going to take over Twitter who actually believes in the Constitution and free speech.
>> JACOBY: …and what it means for one of the world's most important platforms for news and political debate to be under the control of one man.
>> This is a human being that we're giving all of this power to, and there are very few checks on that power right now.
>> JACOBY: This is the story of Elon Musk's latest mission and its far-reaching consequences.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ >> A new name for Twitter– Twitter owner Elon Musk has replaced the iconic bird logo with an X.
This came with almost no warning as he made the announcement that the platform will now be known as X.com.
>> Today, construction crews blocked a lane on Market Street to take down the Twitter sign letter by letter.
>> Passersby stopped, clicked, and shared on social media what was happening.
(cameras clicking) >> I don't know what the thought process is.
This is probably the dumbest thing I've ever seen.
>> I think it's an ego thing.
(tool whirring) >> JACOBY: Over the span of just a few days in July 2023, Twitter disappeared and became X– named after Elon Musk's favorite letter.
>> You know what?
Elon Musk thinks he's Batman, and I'm over it.
>> The former Twitter building now home to X and a giant X sign, and the neighbors say the lights coming from that X sign are simply blinding.
♪ ♪ >> JACOBY: It was the end of a brand that had grown into a global icon since its founding 17 years ago.
>> There is a new service, and supposedly it is the next big thing.
It's a name you can't forget, it's called Twitter.
>> What is Twitter?
>> It's stupid and lame and small.
>> Yet master blogger Robert Scoble can't keep his fingertips off.
>> Twitter is rather addictive.
>> We're looking at my Twitter account, and… >> JACOBY: Twitter was founded in 2006 as a simple messaging platform where users posted about daily life.
>> Users no longer need a PC or a blog.
Messaging can be typed by cellphone.
That's its selling point.
>> JACOBY: But it quickly evolved into what became known as the "global town square."
>> What made you want to get up and do something today?
>> It felt like it was where the conversation was happening.
If there was a news story that dropped on "The New York Times," it was debated on Twitter.
If a journalist like me felt like their story was going viral, it was going viral on Twitter.
>> You sent me a tweet.
>> The queen started tweeting.
>> The pope's first tweet.
>> It had famous people across sports, media, politics… >> John obviously needs to work on his typing skills.
>> (laughing) >> And just, like, generally funny people who were good at Twitter, and the kind of combination of all of those things felt like it was where the conversation was happening.
>> I just type something into my iPhone and boom, it's in their brains.
>> JACOBY: Elon Musk joined the conversation in 2010.
>> Please ignore prior tweets, as that was someone pretending to be me.
This is actually me.
(tweet posts) ♪ ♪ >> JACOBY: At the time, the South African-born entrepreneur was already rich and had a reputation for taking risks.
He'd used the fortune he made as a founder of PayPal to start a rocket company and to buy a stake in Tesla, a fledgling electric car company that, under his leadership, would revolutionize the industry and earn Musk praise as a pioneer in the fight against climate change.
(phone buttons clicking) On Twitter, he started sharing books he liked… (tweet posts) …and random observations about the world.
>> Compared to past, today's world is fantastic.
(tweet posts) >> I liked Elon.
I liked, I thought he was quirky and interesting and creative.
>> Well, you could warm Mars up over time with greenhouse gases, and kind of the opposite of what we're doing on Earth.
>> (laughing) >> This is great.
>> I was in great admiration, because most people in Silicon Valley are talking about stupid things or making dating apps.
He was doing significant stuff.
>> Thanks for having me, it's great to see you guys.
>> Thank you for coming, I really appreciate it.
You kept your promise, which was nice.
>> JACOBY: Kara Swisher writes about Silicon Valley and has known Musk for more than 20 years.
She's interviewed him multiple times.
You started covering Musk, I mean, even before PayPal, right?
>> Yeah, yes, and there was a million startup people like him in Silicon Valley.
But I remember him.
>> JACOBY: And what, what were your impressions of him then?
>> I paid pretty good attention to him, but not a lot, particularly.
But when he started doing the stuff around SpaceX and bought Tesla from the actual founders– that was interesting, because he was different.
>> The real big breakthrough that's needed with rocketry is a truly reusable rocket.
>> How do you split your time between car and rocket?
>> Well, it's usually about 50/50.
>> He was a smart person doing big things.
And so, there weren't, there, literally can't think of someone who was doing as big things as he was.
What's going on with you and Twitter?
It's your happy place.
>> Some people…
Some people use their hair to express themselves, I use Twitter.
>> JACOBY: But there was another side to Musk that Swisher came to know over the years.
>> He's such a quirky personality and an unusual sense of humor that, much more juvenile than the other boys– they're all boys– but, you know, it was even more so.
A lot of fart jokes or penis jokes and, you know, whatever.
You know, he liked those, he thought they were hysterical.
>> Am reading Robert Massie's book on Catherine the Great.
Yeah, I know what you're probably thinking: Did she really (bleep) a horse?
(tweet posts) >> JACOBY: For Musk, Twitter was the perfect outlet.
>> Twitter has always been a place where you can be very honest.
There were a lot of sassy comments, a lot of wit, and yeah, a lot of things that riled people up.
That was literally what Twitter was for.
>> Twitter was the free speech wing of the free speech party, and didn't have any rules.
That was very much the approach when these companies were starting.
>> I love Twitter.
(tweet posts) >> Elon Musk is more impetuous, more impulsive, more addicted to things than anybody I've ever seen.
That's what drives him.
When he gets riled up, he either tweets or plays video games.
>> JACOBY: Musk wouldn't talk to "Frontline," but biographer Walter Isaacson spent the past two years shadowing him.
>> You know, as a kid, he was bullied on the playground.
And he was a scrawny kid, so he kept getting beaten up.
They'd push him down the concrete steps and bloody his face, some of the bullies.
And those scars have always been with him.
Whenever he gets into a dark place, he remembers that playground, and he goes dark.
And in some ways, Twitter is the ultimate global playground, except for, the scrawny kids and the smart kids get followers.
They don't get smashed into the concrete steps.
>> You use your tweeting to, to kind of get back at critics.
>> You kind of have little wars with the press.
>> Twitter's a war zone.
If somebody's gonna jump in the war zone, it's, like, "Okay, you're in the arena.
>> JACOBY: Musk's natural affinity for Twitter earned him millions of followers, then tens of millions.
>> Elon Musk was insanely popular on Twitter.
He'd always had a ton of followers, but he was inching up to being the most followed person on Twitter, and it felt like everything he touched turned to gold in terms of follower count.
So if he interacted with someone, suddenly that person's follower count shot up.
It just felt like there was so much engagement and interest in everything he did.
>> Elon had evangelists.
He attracted a kind of very online, mostly male following that wants technology to save the world.
It was very clear to me that his followers had this kind of brotherly sense, or, "My cool older brother, my cool uncle, my cool dad, who is trying to fix the world for me."
>> Tesla shares surging following C.E.O.
Elon Musk's cryptic tweet saying… >> It's added a lot of value to his, you know, wealth and to the value of his companies.
>> Well, shares of Palo Alto-based Tesla have jumped more than two percent following this mysterious tease-y message from C.E.O.
Elon Musk– he wrote… >> It's, like, enabled Tesla to raise money.
It's increased the size of his fortune.
And that's from Twitter, yeah.
>> JACOBY: This is marketing.
Tesla says, "We don't really spend on advertising and marketing because Elon Musk is on Twitter."
>> JACOBY: It was a similar approach to another businessman who had mastered the art of Twitter.
>> I have a big voice, I have, you know, millions and millions of followers on Twitter, and when I say something, people…
Some people don't like it, but most people do like it.
>> Donald Trump used Twitter for years to pump himself, his businesses, his show.
And it was how he got this massive following.
>> What a crowd.
(audience cheering) >> And Elon used Twitter the same exact way.
There's very little difference.
>> JACOBY: Similar playbook.
>> Similar playbook.
>> You know, if I tweet something, CNN and Fox, all of a sudden, they say, "We have breaking news, Donald Trump has just made a…" I'm sitting there tweeting, bing, bing, bing.
>> JACOBY: Donald Trump's use of Twitter to circumvent the media– first as a candidate, then as president– elevated Twitter to the most influential political platform in America.
>> President Trump tweeted to announce his firing of his secretary of Veterans Affairs.
>> President Trump tweeting out policy on gun safety in our nation's schools… >> President Trump tweeting moments ago Rex Tillerson out as secretary of state.
>> Twitter skyrocketed to a level of prominence that I don't think its founders really expected.
>> Is there an effort within the White House to try to rein in the president's Twitter habit?
>> It also took on this central role in democratic deliberation that I don't think anybody could have expected a single tech platform to do.
>> JACOBY: But for most of this time, Musk had steered clear of political controversy on Twitter.
>> To be clear, I am not conservative.
Am registered independent and politically moderate.
(tweet posts) >> I never knew Elon's politics.
Like, they were all over the place.
He voted for Obama.
He was a big Obama supporter, I remember.
He liked Obama better than I did.
You never knew where he was gonna come down politically.
Like, I didn't ever feel he had any big point of view.
♪ ♪ >> California is now under a statewide stay-at-home order… >> JACOBY: The pandemic would spark a shift in Musk that, like so much in his life, would play out on Twitter.
>> The coronavirus panic is dumb.
(tweet posts) >> I think Elon Musk's tweets are a lot more fun when stocks go up and it's a bull market.
When it's more serious like this, it feels a little like… You know, not the time.
>> Not now, Elon.
>> He had a point of view about, that the, the virus was not dangerous.
And that might have been, but at the time, people did not know.
And it could have gone a lot of different ways.
And a million people died.
At one point he was, like, "I read everything and I now know," and I'm, like, "Thank you, Dr.
And I was, like, "You don't know anything.
That's, like, ridiculous."
"Well, they're wrong about the mask-wearing," or, "They're wrong about the 'don't touch' thing."
I said, "Well, they didn't know, and now they know, it's called science."
>> In California, its 40 million residents are in lockdown… >> JACOBY: At the time, the government had ordered Musk to close his Tesla factories in California.
I mean, he was pissed that his factories were, you know, forced to close, right?
>> Yes, ultimately, yes, that's the thing, is, he wanted them there and he wanted them working.
He thought it was, the…
It was an existential crisis if Tesla didn't succeed.
He really, for the world, for all of us.
And then it got weird.
(tweets posting) >> Free America now.
Give people their freedom back.
Hospitals in California have been half-empty this whole time.
Now give people back their freedom.
>> JACOBY: Musk told his employees that he intended to defy orders and go to work.
>> Elon Musk, the C.E.O.
Of Tesla, is defying stay-at-home orders, daring authorities to arrest him by reopening his California factory.
Elon Musk tweeted, "I will be on the line with everyone else.
If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me."
(cameras clicking) >> JACOBY: Musk aired his frustrations on a Tesla earnings call.
>> JACOBY: Musk's rhetoric on COVID would win him an unexpected ally in President Trump, who tweeted, "California should let Tesla @elonmusk open the plant, now."
Musk tweeted back.
>> Thank you!
(tweet posts) >> When you say civilization's fragile, do you mean because of this COVID-19 (bleep) that's going on right now?
>> What's that?
I never heard of it.
>> It's this thing… >> JACOBY: He also found a sympathetic ear with Joe Rogan, the most popular podcaster in the country.
>> In general, I think that's, like, we should be concerned about, um, anything that's a massive infringement on our civil, civil liberties.
>> Yeah, my, my opinion is, if somebody wants to stay home, they should stay home.
I say if somebody doesn't want to stay home, they should not be compelled to stay home.
(phone buttons clicking) >> JACOBY: In May, a cryptic tweet from Musk signaled his shifting politics.
>> When he tweets, "Take the red pill," a line from "The Matrix," it means, "Question this ideology "that may have been imposed.
Try to find out the real truth."
>> All I'm offering is the truth, nothing more.
>> But it was mostly a signal that he had joined that…
I'd call it the somewhat conspiratorial people on the right, who feel that the media and the establishment are imposing a narrative on us.
(car horns blaring) >> Today, as protests erupted across the country, many governors say it's still too soon to lift restrictions.
>> JACOBY: Musk's position on the pandemic aligned him with a growing chorus of conservatives who felt their personal liberty was under attack from all sides.
>> It's our first amendment right.
>> JACOBY: The government, the scientific establishment, the press, and, increasingly, social media.
>> He was also noticing that on Twitter, if you said that lockdowns could cause more harm than good, you'd be kind of repressed on Twitter.
So this made him upset.
>> They're saying to us, "If you dare go against what we say is true– "not necessarily what is true, but what we say is true– then we're going to boot you."
>> JACOBY: It's true that social media companies had become more proactive about content moderation.
(gavel bangs) >> I call this hearing to order, and I'd like to welcome our witnesses today, Jack Dorsey, chief executive officer at Twitter… >> JACOBY: For years before the pandemic, Twitter's C.E.O.
and founder, Jack Dorsey, had been criticized in the press and lambasted in Congress for his company's failure to stop the spread of hate speech and misinformation– especially after Russian interference in the 2016 election.
>> We're now removing over 200% more accounts for violating our policies.
>> We were tasked with making sure our algorithms were responding in a way that was actually beneficial to humanity, not driving misinformation, not driving bias and discrimination.
>> JACOBY: Rumman Chowdhury, a data scientist, ran a team of engineers at Twitter tasked with ensuring the platform's algorithms did not promote harmful content.
>> There are millions of tweets any given second that you could see on your timeline.
Your little iPhone screen only shows maybe three of those at a time.
So we have to build multiple systems that are identifying what you'd want to see.
>> JACOBY: I mean, it shapes the universe of what people are seeing.
It shapes the universe of perception.
It is telling us what is important and what is not important.
So my team's job was to ensure that the algorithms that we're building were responding to some of the issues that governments were talking about, people were talking about, and this increasing fear of how social media might be changing the course of elections, how it might be, you know, making children's minds rot, how it might be polarizing young men and causing some of the violence that we're seeing in the world.
>> JACOBY: How it might be spreading lies more than truth?
>> Absolutely, that's definitely a concern.
>> In late 2019, Twitter fielded a large-scale study of users of the service and asked them, "Do you think Twitter should take some type of action on misinformation?"
And what we heard back from a majority of users globally was yes.
>> JACOBY: Yoel Roth started at Twitter in 2015 while finishing his PhD in communications.
He would work his way up to running the content moderation team– a job that would ultimately lead him to clash with Elon Musk.
>> Twitter's users told us that when it came to certain types of harmful misinformation, they didn't think it was acceptable for the company to do nothing.
They wanted us to step in.
And so that's what we did.
>> JACOBY: That seems like a particularly messy business for a social media company like Twitter.
How did you think about your role as sort of an arbiter of truth?
>> Misinformation was one of the hardest policy issues for Twitter to take on.
For many years, our position was, "We are not the arbiters of truth."
But we also saw that some types of misinformation, if left completely unchecked, could be incredibly dangerous and damaging.
And so we had to figure out when and where it might be appropriate to step in.
>> JACOBY: But it does put you at Twitter in the uncomfortable position of having to kind of determine something as misinformation, determine something as being a lie.
>> I don't think it's a comfortable position for companies to be in, to have to arbitrate whether something is true or false.
But there's still a responsibility that goes along with being the place where these conversations happen.
We see that when platforms are hands-off with dangerous speech, that dangerous things happen as a result.
♪ ♪ >> So, as misinformation about the coronavirus continues to spread globally, Twitter has implemented a new system to sort of highlight bogus or unverified claims.
>> When you are in a very public health crisis and health emergency, and individuals are looking for information that can literally be life-saving, to have misinformation spreading could be the difference between life and death.
>> JACOBY: Anika Collier Navaroli, a lawyer and senior member of Twitter's safety team, helped write the company's content moderation policies.
In May 2020, Twitter rolled out a new system of labeling tweets deemed to be misinformation.
>> Many experts call the steady stream of false information and conspiracy theories an "infodemic."
>> So there was this new intervention, which was this label.
And I think it really did sort of change the experience and change the conversation for a lot of people, because it felt like social media companies were intervening in things that they never had done before, which they were.
>> JACOBY: Speech police?
>> Never met 'em.
(laughs) >> JACOBY: Why is it funny?
>> You know, I think it's, I think it's funny to me because people have used a lot of words and a lot of phrases to kind of describe the job that I did, right?
We were known as Twitter gods.
We were known as Twitter jail and the thought police, the speech police, you know?
All of these various terms, I think, have been used towards, you know, humans who are showing up every day just trying to do our jobs.
>> JACOBY: What would be a better description, then, of what you did?
>> Content moderation.
♪ ♪ >> JACOBY: Twitter's new approach would play into concerns that social media companies had started to constrain what people could say about the pandemic and the response.
>> They want unquestioned obedience, so they're cracking down on free expression.
>> JACOBY: In late April, Elon Musk tweeted… >> Silicon Valley has become Sanctimonious Valley.
Too much the moral arbiter of the world.
>> Today, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to send every… >> JACOBY: One of Twitter's first misinformation labels would be the most fateful.
>> We are reaching out to all registered eligible voters, and giving… >> JACOBY: When California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he'd send millions of mail-in ballots to voters in lockdown, President Trump took to Twitter, alleging this would lead to electoral fraud.
>> So, in that moment, we had to decide what to do.
We had built a new product and a new set of technologies for labeling misinformation.
And here was one of the most prominent accounts on the service, spreading misinformation about voting by mail, and so we made the decision to use our new labeling technology on one of Donald Trump's tweets for the first time.
>> JACOBY: How did it feel to make that decision?
>> It was a bit like a dam breaking.
For years, Twitter had been criticized for not doing anything to address harmful speech from Donald Trump.
And in truth, he had kind of paralyzed the company's content moderation efforts, because we didn't know what the right answer was.
>> JACOBY: Mm-hmm.
>> The company was holding back.
It was nervous about taking its first action to moderate a sitting head of state.
And then we did it.
And the response was immediate.
>> Let's bring in Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president.
>> The day after we labeled Donald Trump's posts for the first time, I woke up to Kellyanne Conway on Fox News.
>> I want to raise the, the name of somebody at Twitter.
He's the head of integrity, and his name is Yoel Roth.
Somebody in San Francisco go wake him up and tell him he's about to get more followers.
>> I was floored.
I had never gotten that level of public attention before.
>> His name is Yoel Roth.
>> The next day, I was on the cover of the "New York Post," along with several of my old tweets.
The president held an Oval Office press conference decrying social media censorship.
He called me a hater.
>> If Twitter were not honorable, if you're gonna have a guy like this be your judge and jury, I think, just shut it down, as far as I'm concerned, but I'd have to go through a legal process to do that.
>> How would you shut down… >> I became the poster child for Silicon Valley bias and censorship.
>> Twitter's head of site integrity has tweeted that there are "actual Nazis" in the White House.
>> JACOBY: The Trump administration pointed to tweets Roth had posted back in 2016, not long after he joined Twitter, accusing him of bias.
>> This is just incredible.
"I'm just saying, we fly over those states that voted for a racist tangerine for a reason."
It's obviously not decency.
>> (laughs) >> And it's sure as hell not neutrality or objectivity.
>> JACOBY: What were you thinking tweeting those things?
>> I regret those tweets.
>> JACOBY: But do they not reveal a liberal bias?
I mean, that's what…
The president was saying they reveal a liberal bias.
>> My personal opinions didn't impact Twitter's policies.
Twitter's policies were the product of dozens of people working on them and were subject to approval, not just by me, but by a team of executives and ultimately by the company's C.E.O., Jack Dorsey.
I take the responsibility that goes with my job seriously.
I wouldn't post those things today.
I would recommend against others in my line of work doing so.
But I think taking years-old posts out of context and suggesting that they represent some type of systematic bias is a misrepresentation of the facts.
>> JACOBY: Isn't it a legitimate question, though, to ask in certain circumstances whether the referee is biased?
>> JACOBY: I mean, at Twitter, the vast majority of the staff, I believe, lean Democratic, right?
So isn't it a legitimate question to ask if the ref is biased?
>> I think it's a legitimate question to ask.
There's also no evidence that it's true.
>> Now there are new gatekeepers, and more gatekeepers than ever.
>> They're authoritarians.
If they're willing to censor the president, they will think nothing at all of silencing you, and they don't.
>> JACOBY: Elon Musk would echo the concerns.
>> Silicon Valley, or the San Francisco Bay Area, has too much influence on the world, in my opinion.
And I say that as someone who has spent most of his life in California, mostly in the Bay Area.
You know, there are some out there who just want to shut down one side of the debate or another.
I think we should resist that.
>> JACOBY: In October 2020, concerns about bias at Twitter would only intensify when it made an unprecedented move– temporarily blocking a "New York Post" news story about Hunter Biden's laptop in the run-up to the presidential election.
>> These oligarchs in big tech are treating us as if we are thieves in their authoritarian regime.
>> Twitter had locked out a story about Hunter Biden's laptop.
You know, they kept it from being transmitted for about a day, then they locked the "New York Post" out of their account for two weeks.
It was kind of a historic moment in American censorship.
>> JACOBY: Matt Taibbi, then a reporter for "Rolling Stone," was alarmed by the development.
>> These companies– Facebook, Twitter, uh, Google/YouTube, they are de facto monopolies in terms of distribution.
They control overwhelmingly who gets to see what.
Once you start going down that road, the whole history of any sort of unfree society in the world is that once you take a step in that direction, you know, it never stops, it, it always keeps going.
>> The Trump campaign is accusing Twitter and Facebook of censorship after… >> JACOBY: Twitter had blocked the story due to concerns that the laptop was part of a Russian hack-and-leak operation intended to disrupt the American elections.
>> Twitter's C.E.O.
also said Twitter should have communicated better… >> Right.
>> …about why… >> JACOBY: Twitter and Dorsey soon admitted that blocking the "New York Post" story was a mistake.
>> Suspending the Twitter account of a major news organization for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate.
>> Joseph R. Biden, Jr., is elected the 46th president of the United States, winning… >> JACOBY: Three weeks later, President Trump lost the election, and Twitter continued to slap labels on his tweets and many others that spread lies about the results.
>> This morning, President Trump plans to speak to thousands of his supporters.
>> Between Election Day and January 6, Twitter labeled more than 140 separate tweets from the president.
>> Every time I put out a tweet, it's– even if it's totally correct, totally correct– I get a flag.
>> We labeled them as misinformation, we restricted them, we fact-checked them, and the president kept posting them, every day.
The same thing, the same content, the same lies.
>> I am very concerned about what happens tomorrow, especially given what we have been seeing on the platform for the last several months.
>> JACOBY: On January 5, in a video obtained by "Frontline" of an internal Twitter conference call, Anika Navaroli warned that Trump's tweets could lead to violence.
>> And we're still confused as to when we are actually going to be able to either trigger, again, like, a crisis or an emergency.
Like, does somebody need to be murdered?
>> JACOBY: For months, she'd been urging top executives to change tack– to not just label some of Trump's tweets, but take them down.
>> What I was advocating before January 6 was not for the permanent suspension or permanent banning of any one account, but rather the taking down of individual content.
And I remember, you know, sending a message to a larger team and saying– and this was, like, December of 2020– saying out loud, you know, "If there were "any other country in the world "in which the leader of the elected party "was contesting a open and fair election, "and their followers were openly calling for civil war, would we do anything differently?"
Because I firmly believed, given, you know, the other circumstances that I had worked and I had seen, that we would, and yet we were not acting in this specific case.
>> JACOBY: So your warnings basically were unheeded.
>> JACOBY: Did you get a sense that part of the reluctance to do anything much about Trump's tweeting before January 6 was because he was a star of Twitter?
>> Very much so– he was the main attraction.
(people talking angrily) (people shouting in distance) I believe that the Twitter platform was used to incite violence on January 6.
>> JACOBY: And Twitter knew about it.
>> I specifically warned them, yes.
>> JACOBY: And nothing was done.
>> Nothing was done.
>> JACOBY: Navaroli would eventually resign.
Twitter's founder, Jack Dorsey, didn't respond to our request for an interview.
The company has said that it had a policy of giving heads of state more latitude, and that Navaroli's account leaves out the "unprecedented steps" it took to respond to threats during the 2020 election.
(crowd clamoring aggressively) (people shouting) (weapon firing) (people shouting and yelling) (weapon firing, siren wailing) As the events unfolded on January 6 at the Capitol building… >> This is America!
>> JACOBY: …Twitter temporarily suspended the president– a 12-hour time out.
But two days later, Trump was at it again.
>> The president returned to Twitter and posted that he would not be attending President Biden's inauguration.
He posted that of the American patriots who had supported him would have a voice long into the future.
And that tweet lit a fuse.
And we saw that the president's rhetoric about patriots having a voice into the future was being seen as a call to action, as a promise that the president would have people's back as they protested, demonstrated, and even carried out acts of violence.
>> JACOBY: You were interpreting it as a call to arms, but was it literally, you know, a call to arms?
>> I want to emphasize that wasn't my interpretation.
That was how people received the president's statements.
Whatever the president's intentions– and we can't get in his head, we don't know what he was thinking– whatever his intentions, the result was that lots of people interpreted it as a call to action and a call to violence.
And it was not possible for the company to avoid taking action any longer.
>> JACOBY: I got to be honest, like, who elected you to take away the megaphone?
I mean, who are you to make that choice?
>> I'm no one.
And it wasn't my decision.
It was my recommendation.
There were other people who were involved in it, who reviewed it, who weighed in on it.
But ultimately, it shouldn't be any one person's decision.
It's a terrifying amount of power for a company to have, for any one person to have, whether it's me, Jack Dorsey, Elon Musk– no one should have that kind of power.
And yet that power exists.
And somebody has to make a call whether incitement of violence from a head of state crosses the line, and…
I didn't seek out that power, I don't think anyone working at Twitter or Facebook or any other platform did.
But when the power finds you, and when the risks are so significant, there is no choice but to act.
>> This morning, President Trump waking up without his favorite megaphone.
>> Twitter has announced it is cutting off President Trump's ability to post on the social media site permanently.
>> I think that big tech is doing a horrible thing… >> JACOBY: The suspension of President Trump was widely criticized– including by Elon Musk.
>> A lot of people are going to be super-unhappy with West Coast high tech as the de facto arbiter of free speech.
(tweet posts) >> Joining us remotely, Elon Musk.
>> JACOBY: He'd call Twitter's decision a grave mistake.
>> I do think that it was not correct to ban Donald Trump.
It alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice.
I think permabans just fundamentally undermine trust in Twitter as a town square where everyone can voice their opinion.
>> JACOBY: Musk saw Twitter's decision not as an isolated incident, but part of a larger trend in American culture.
>> I think he felt that the educational establishment, the media, the people who ran Twitter had sort of fallen into a groupthink.
And he felt they were suppressing people who were outside of the mainstream, especially people on the right.
(camera clicking) >> JACOBY: He called it the "woke mind virus."
>> He basically meant the progressive, very anti-capitalistic or anti-business feelings, as well as the political correctness he felt, where you had to use the right pronouns and other things.
>> JACOBY: An episode in Musk's complicated family life would intensify his feelings about progressive politics.
By 2022, he'd had eleven children with three different women.
That spring, one of his teenagers came out publicly as transgender.
>> And he got his mind around that okay, but she became very left-wing and progressive and Marxist, rejected him for being a billionaire, and changed her last name.
And he kept saying that's the most hurtful thing that's ever happened.
And that, too, I think, pushed him, because he felt that the woke ideology had infected her and others.
And so he becomes more anti-establishment, more anti-woke.
>> Elon Musk, ladies and gentlemen.
>> JACOBY: He would later explain his disdain for woke politics to comedian and talk show host Bill Maher.
>> I mean, you have talked about this… >> Yeah.
>> …"woke mind virus."
>> Yes, it's often anti-meritocratic.
You can't, you can't question things.
Even the questioning is bad.
Almost synonymous would be, would be cancel culture.
>> Okay, so this… >> I, I really can't emphasize this enough, we, we must… We must protect free speech.
And free speech only matters– it's only relevant when it's someone you don't like saying something… >> Of course.
>> …you don't like.
(chuckles): Because, obviously, free speech that you like is… >> Yes.
>> You know, it's easy.
So, it's… And it's…
The thing about censorship is that, sure, for those who would advocate it, just remember, at some point, that will be turned on you.
(audience applauding) >> JACOBY: Musk's tough talk about the woke mind virus and his newfound free speech crusade… >> Thank you, Elon Musk.
>> JACOBY: …would help make him one of the most popular figures in America.
>> And he talks about this woke mindset virus.
And I think he's right, it is a virus.
>> He's not afraid to speak the truth.
He's speaking the truth very boldly.
>> JACOBY: He was tapping into a growing concern in much of the country that progressive ideas and policies had gone too far.
>> At, at its heart, wokeness is divisive, um, exclusionary, um, and hateful.
>> On Sunday evening, we got a notice.
"Hi, the Babylon Bee, your account has been locked for violating the Twitter rules."
>> JACOBY: For Musk, the last straw was in March 2022, when Twitter suspended one of his favorite accounts, the Babylon Bee, a right-wing satirical website.
>> And our offending tweet was, "The Babylon Bee's Man of the Year is Rachel Levine."
And, uh… >> Which we thought was an, was a nice honor.
>> JACOBY: The Babylon Bee had mocked the nation's highest-ranking transgender official, Admiral Rachel Levine, by awarding her the title "Man of the Year," a violation of Twitter's misgendering policy at the time.
>> Elon Musk took issue with the, the banning of the Babylon Bee.
You know, they were taken off because they, I guess, misgendered one of Biden's appointees, a, you know, a trans appointee.
And I could see why people would think that's offensive.
But we've protected comedy in this country for a long time, even when it's incredibly offensive, precisely because, you know, that's where a lot of social change happens.
If you start making it ban-able to, to say the wrong thing, you're, you're going to not have comedy soon.
>> You know, it's just a joke, and, and they're, they're asking us to basically bend the knee and say, "We admit that this is hateful conduct.
Please keep us on your platform."
And we're not going to do that.
>> In the case of the Babylon Bee, they posted content that misgendered Admiral Rachel Levine.
They claimed it was satire, but they did it fully recognizing that they had violated Twitter's rules.
You don't get to join somebody else's community and decide that you're going to set your own rules.
>> JACOBY: Can you explain why is there a policy about misgendering?
>> If somebody expresses a preference to have somebody use one set of pronouns, and somebody willfully uses another, that's an attempt to silence them.
It's an attempt to intimidate them, to abuse them, to harass them.
And that conduct ultimately makes people less comfortable speaking publicly on a platform like Twitter, which I view as counterproductive.
You can make that decision when you're a company.
And there's lots of reasons for it.
You do it because it attracts users.
You do it because it attracts advertisers.
You do it because certain identity categories are actually protected under the law in the United States and elsewhere, and you have an obligation to do it.
But those are decisions that you make as a company.
You are curating a community, and you get to decide whether some types of harmful and hateful conduct are outside of the bounds of what's okay.
>> JACOBY: When Babylon Bee was suspended, Musk's ex-wife texted him a suggestion.
>> Can you buy Twitter and then delete it, please!?
xx America is going insane.
Please do something to fight woke-ism.
I will do anything to help!
>> JACOBY: Musk tested the waters on Twitter.
>> Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy.
What should be done?
(tweet posts) >> At the beginning of 2022, things were going really well for him.
He had a lot of money burning a hole in his pocket because he had exercised some stock options.
But when things go well for Musk, he gets unsettled sometimes.
He wants to shake things up.
He's been, as his brother Kimbal says, a drama addict his whole life.
And when things are calm, he seeks out storms.
>> JACOBY: By March, Musk began quietly buying Twitter stock, hoping to push the company in a new direction.
>> He told me, "This could fulfill my vision of x.com," which was a company he had started 20 years earlier that morphed into PayPal, but he had wanted it to be larger than a PayPal.
He wanted it to be a social network, a payments platform, a place where everybody could create content and get paid for it.
He wanted to transform content the way Steve Jobs transformed the music business.
>> JACOBY: Twitter offered him a seat on the board.
In texts with Parag Agrawal, Jack Dorsey's new C.E.O., Musk seemed eager to help.
>> I have a ton of ideas, but let me know if I'm pushing too hard.
I just want Twitter to be maximum amazing.
>> In the midst of the turmoil of him buying stock and being offered a board seat on Twitter, he flies off to Hawaii.
He doesn't usually take vacations, but this is three or four days at Larry Ellison's house, and he's meeting a girl he was seeing at the time, Natasha Bassett, an Australian actress.
But instead of relishing the vacation, he stays up all night tweeting and texting.
>> Most of these "top" accounts tweet rarely and post very little content.
Is Twitter dying?
(tweet posts) >> JACOBY: It was the day Musk was set to join the board.
Agrawal texted him: >> You are free to tweet is Twitter dying or anything else about Twitter.
But it's my responsibility to tell you that it's not helping me make Twitter better in the current context.
>> JACOBY: Musk snapped back.
>> What did you get done this week?
>> JACOBY: Less than a minute later… >> I'm not joining the board– this is a waste of time.
>> JACOBY: 15 seconds after that… >> We'll make an offer to take Twitter private.
>> Elon's impatience and impulsiveness just drove him to say, "I don't want a board seat.
I want to control this."
>> JACOBY: Musk made his offer.
>> $43 billion, all cash, take it or leave it.
>> He tweeted the news about an hour ago, simply saying, "I made an offer."
>> Elon Musk wants Twitter, but he hasn't got it yet.
>> This is not only a big win for free speech, it is about a big shift that's coming.
>> He says he wants to transform the company.
>> JACOBY: Kara Swisher was initially optimistic.
>> I thought it was a great idea.
I thought he'd be a good owner.
>> JACOBY: Why?
>> Because he has the money, the means, and the creativity to do something.
I thought he, um…
I thought he could get stuff done.
And he actually asked me my ideas, 'cause I knew a lot about Twitter, I was a very heavy user.
I was working with Twitter on a bunch of things that were, were interesting to make money.
>> JACOBY: Mm-hmm.
>> And I was very clear, like, "You can do it.
You can make this into a much better business."
And he said, "Let's get together and talk about it."
>> Yeah, so we heard Musk this afternoon say he's not sure that this will succeed.
>> JACOBY: Not all of his friends and family were so enthusiastic.
>> In early April, he's at the factory in Texas with Tesla.
And his brother is arguing, "Don't get into Twitter, you got enough else to do."
Even his kids at dinner are saying, "Why are you doing this?"
His kids say, "We don't use Twitter."
I just sat and watched as all these arguments were going on, but I did ask him, "How does it fit in to all your other missions?"
And he said, "Well, it doesn't really fit in, "but maybe by helping democracy, it'll help civilization survive."
I think he always has to put these things in some huge, large, epic framework.
And he eventually convinced himself of that.
>> My biological neural nets concluded that if Twitter was not bought and steered in a good direction, that it would be a danger for the future of civilization.
>> He is somebody, ever since he was reading comic books as a kid, who needs to see himself on an epic mission.
(crowd cheering and applauding) >> JACOBY: After Twitter accepted his offer, Musk appeared celebratory at the Met Gala with his mother.
>> I told him not to take on the world, and the universe, and he didn't listen.
>> Aspirationally, I am trying to do good for humanity and, and the future of civilization.
>> Throughout all of this, I really thought, he's bought some Twitter stock.
He's talked about buying Twitter.
What are the odds that he will actually get his act together?
There's a gap between, like, Elon Musk tweeting, "I want to buy this company," or, like, sending an angry text message saying, "I want to buy your company," and, like, the bankers at Morgan Stanley putting together the commitment letter saying, "Here's your $44 billion of financing."
>> JACOBY: Did it appear like an impulse buy?
>> I would have said more like a rage buy.
It didn't on the surface seem to have a ton of, like, a lot, like, business or financial logic to it.
One reason it seems impulsive is 'cause he changed his mind, like, a week later, you know?
Like, he tried to get out of the deal.
>> Elon Musk now backing out of his $44 billion agreement to purchase Twitter.
>> The social media giant suing him for $44 billion in an effort to enforce their original merger agreement.
>> Does Elon musk have any legal footing here?
>> I think that probably what was happening there was mostly that he realized he was overpaying.
No one really knows, but I think that probably what he was looking to do was recut the deal at a lower price.
>> JACOBY: After several months of legal wrangling, Musk gave up, agreeing to the terms of his original offer.
>> Elon Musk is in control of Twitter this morning.
The world's richest man closed his blockbuster deal overnight.
>> And now that it's no longer a publicly traded company, he'll have no shareholders to answer to, which means he can run the company how he wants.
>> JACOBY: On October 26, 2022, Elon Musk arrived at Twitter headquarters with a gag in hand.
>> I was standing in the lobby with Parag Agrawal and some of the leaders of Twitter.
They were waiting for Musk to come in.
And then he comes in with that sink.
>> Entering Twitter HQ– let that sink in!
(tweet posts) >> You could feel a certain tension in the air.
Because Twitter is this caring, comforting environment with all sorts of quiet rooms and yoga studios and mental health days, and they believe in psychological safety.
And Musk turned to me and said, "Psychological safety!"
And he sort of laughs.
He says, "That's the enemy of innovation.
I believe in hardcore intensity."
>> JACOBY: Musk had taken on more than $12 billion in debt and needed to start making cuts, quickly.
He'd brought with him a team of friends, relatives, and loyalists from his other companies to help him do just that.
>> Suddenly an army of people materialized in the office who didn't have Twitter name tags or Twitter computers, and who started telling Twitter staff what to do.
And the assumption was that they had some kind of authority because Elon had brought them over.
They knew how to build cars.
They knew how to launch rockets.
They knew how to dig tunnels.
But they didn't necessarily know about how to run a social media company.
>> Teams were asked originally to print out code, I think 50 pages of code, and have it reviewed by a Tesla engineer.
People were standing at the printer, printing out their code, and sort of standing in line like a bunch of students about to be reprimanded by a dean.
And that whole exercise is not valuable.
Engineers who build cars do not understand the code behind social media systems.
They're, they're totally different things.
That was just a performance of loyalty.
>> JACOBY: Within days, Rumman Chowdhury was part of the first round of layoffs.
>> JACOBY: Okay.
We spoke to a group of former employees, some of whom told us they had been initially excited by the prospect of Musk taking over.
>> I was what I would initially call team hype when he was first offered to buy the company.
And then in early June, we had an all-hands with him.
>> Elon, thank you so much for joining us.
>> All right, thanks for having me.
It's, glad to be able to speak to everyone.
>> JACOBY: A leaked video of the meeting was posted online.
>> I said, like, "Okay, I'm gonna see the business version "of Elon Musk, not the weird Twitter guy, right?
"We're gonna hear, like, facts about his product vision.
And we're gonna hear a bunch of stuff around that."
He showed up late to that meeting.
He showed up in a very unprofessional manner.
>> I've made this joke already, but, you know, some people use their hair to express themselves, I use Twitter.
(chuckles) >> The meeting was very meandering.
It was very light on details.
>> (stammers): Some of my, some of my comments about Twitter being sort of like a digital town square, but really much more than that… >> It was going into A.I.
>> He talked about extending the light of consciousness, and started to get into, like, Mars colonization.
>> We should take the set of actions most likely to extend the scope, scale, and lifespan of consciousness as we know it.
Um, and… >> I can't believe I have to transition from aliens away, away from this conversation back to, uh, to Twitter.
>> I guess I didn't quite hear at that meeting what I thought I would see, a very professional kind of visionary or industrialist.
I just saw the same Twitter guy.
>> Elon Musk making major moves after his takeover at Twitter, telling employees layoffs will begin later this morning.
>> JACOBY: A week after Musk's takeover, the entire Twitter staff received an email.
>> 5:00, 5:30 on Thursday, which is 8:00, people have left for the day, on the East Coast, Central Time, this note about, "Oh, here are the layoffs going to happen.
"You'll get an email either to your work email or your personal email."
>> I remember over text with half my team, and we were literally refreshing, like, we were logging into our computers.
I'm on the East Coast, I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. that night, like, just kind of checking, like, do I still have access?
And then at 3:00 a.m., I was, like, "You know what?
I'll find out in the morning if I'm still an employee."
>> I was having dinner with my family– I'm on the East Coast– and my phone was just dinging during the dinner.
I opened my computer, and when I had logged in, I lost access.
Like, everything shut off.
The screen went gray at that moment and I literally started crying in front of my kids.
>> It could have been handled a whole lot better, should have been handled a whole lot better and with more humanity, and so shame on him for that.
>> I spent over an, an hour and a half.
I don't know why I'm so emotional.
I thought I'm over this.
So I lied on, in bed.
(voice breaking): And I scrolled to the top of the, of the timeline.
(sniffles) And I looked at everybody's message.
I scrolled over about nine hours' worth of saluting emojis.
And the next day is like you went through a fire and you're looking for survivors.
>> This morning, thousands of Twitter employees are out of a job.
>> JACOBY: There would be more rounds of layoffs and firings over the coming months.
>> It felt like I was on a sinking ship.
They had just let, like, 75 percent of the people on the ship drown and I'm still here on this ship.
And I'm, like, "I don't know what I'm doing."
>> JACOBY: And how, how many of you, even by a show of hands, are still waiting on a proper severance?
What you were promised?
All of you.
Thousands of former workers have sued Twitter, raising claims including unpaid severance and bonuses.
Twitter contends its ex-employees have received everything they're owed.
>> Twitter customer support, at, at your service.
(chuckling) >> JACOBY: Musk defended the layoffs on the Silicon Valley podcast "All-In."
>> How did you get to your intuition on what the efficient frontier of employees needed to be to make the product better?
>> Well… (chuckles) Um… Yeah.
(laughs) >> Well, I, I observed part of this… >> Yeah.
>> …where you basically asked the question, "Who here is critical and who here is exceptional?"
>> (stammers): Yes, I mean, so…
I mean, it really…
The… What, the criteria I was trying to apply, and obviously, it's, you're not going to be perfect if you're moving fast and, and there's a lot of, you know, people you're talking about here is, anyone who is exceptional at what they do, where the role is critical, they have a positive effect on others, and they are trusted, meaning they put the company's interests before their own, uh, should stay.
>> Pretty straightforward.
And, you know, also, and also is up for working, you know, working hard.
Like, uh… (stammering): That would not, that was not… That's not, was not Twitter's prior culture.
>> The first time that I met Elon Musk was a few hours after he fired my boss.
I assumed that I was going to be fired and was frankly surprised that it was happening in person.
But a member of Elon's team requested to meet with me.
So the initial perspective that somebody on his team had was, well, turn off all access to content moderation tools.
Just stop all of it, nobody moderates anything.
>> JACOBY: Really?
>> And I explained that that wouldn't be a viable approach because there's lots of types of moderation that are simply non-negotiable.
Around combating terrorism, around protecting children.
I suggested that we not shut down those lines of work, and he agreed.
And I was just floored.
There was a moment that I had been expecting not just to be fired, but to be walked out the door immediately.
And instead, I was making a recommendation to Elon Musk about content moderation.
He agreed with me and he understood what we were trying to do.
And I thought for a minute, maybe it won't be as bad as we've been assuming.
Maybe it's all just for show.
>> Hate speech is surging on Twitter following Elon Musk's takeover… >> JACOBY: But Musk would soon be tested.
>> He put up the Bat signal to racists, to misogynists, to homophobes.
>> JACOBY: Groups that monitor hate speech, like the Anti-Defamation League, spotted a worrying trend.
>> We saw this surge of toxic trolling and hate speech that just blew up on the platform days after the company was bought.
>> There was a trolling campaign that was supposedly testing the waters of the new Twitter.
The idea was that trolls should come to the platform and post racist content as proof that Elon was now allowing racism in a way that the previous administration didn't.
And so there was a surge in racism.
>> JACOBY: A coalition of groups, including the ADL, called on big advertisers to pause spending on Twitter.
>> This growing list of companies pressing pause on their Twitter ads… >> Audi's leaving, GM is leaving, Pfizer is leaving… >> We wanted clarification on how the company was thinking about its policies around addressing hate and harassment on its service.
>> JACOBY: The tactic of working with advertisers and pressuring advertisers is essentially a tactic of, like, let's hit them where it hurts.
I mean, advertising is their main revenue stream.
>> Like, Procter & Gamble and Unilever and Kraft and Coca-Cola and McDonald's and Starbucks, I mean, these businesses invest billions of billions of dollars in their brands.
>> JACOBY: Mm-hmm.
>> They spend countless amounts of money to try to connect with consumers.
But all we want to do is make sure they understand that their brands are being, you know, flighted up on these sites next to, I don't know, swastikas.
>> JACOBY: Mm-hmm.
>> Or next to white supremacist content, or next to other hateful content.
And then, look, if McDonald's thinks or Coca-Cola thinks that they want their ads up against, you know, horrible racist content, they can, they can do that.
>> The day Elon officially took over, the use of the N word on Twitter shot up 500%.
>> And so there's this question of whether or not trolls or, or different people are testing the limits of what is appropriate on Twitter.
>> And I think it tells you all you need to know about how Musk's messaging and his signaling has been received.
>> JACOBY: As hate speech continued to surge, Musk called in Yoel Roth, who was now leading Twitter's trust and safety division.
>> My directions from Elon directly were: shut it down.
Get rid of all of it.
He actually even wanted us to go further than we had previously, and said, "It's not just about targeted hateful conduct, attacks on somebody."
He's, like, "Just take all of this stuff down.
Get rid of the slurs, get rid of all of it."
>> And he pushed us to take a more aggressive position, shutting down free speech.
He was doing it out of a recognition that advertisers objected to this content and were judging him and the new Twitter by our ability to effectively moderate it.
>> JACOBY: But as advertisers continued to stay away and revenue plummeted, Musk suddenly changed course and began pushing back.
>> Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists.
Extremely messed up!
They're trying to destroy free speech in America.
(tweet posts) >> JACOBY: Inside Twitter, he asked Roth and his team to block posts supporting the advertising pause.
>> One of the things that was very hypocritical in my view is that you had people urging boycotts because they thought Twitter was allowing too much hate speech, and Musk decided he wanted to shut down some of these people who were advocating a boycott.
Well, that goes against free speech principles.
That's pure political speech.
And Yoel Roth and other people there said, "You can't do that."
>> I was spending more and more of my time each day dealing with impulsive and erratic questions and decisions and feeling that I was becoming less and less effective in pushing back on them.
I would get questions about conspiracy theories about Twitter's moderation and would have to spend hours answering them.
I managed to push back on some of Elon's requests to ban users outside of our policies, but I was sort of left wondering, at what point does that not work anymore?
At what point does he not listen to me?
At what point do I get fired for this?
And I realized that pushing back on individual bad decisions wasn't going to be enough.
And so, I quit.
>> (laughing) Is this working?
Hey, guys– you're on, too, welcome.
(laughs) This is me curling a 45.
>> Oh, my gosh.
>> JACOBY: With Yoel Roth gone, along with much of the trust and safety team… >> (laughing) >> JACOBY: …Musk was remaking Twitter in his own image.
>> Here we are at the, at the merch thing, and there's the entire closet full of #Woke.
>> JACOBY: In late November, he announced a general amnesty for many accounts Twitter had previously suspended.
And reinstated the Babylon Bee, former President Donald Trump, and neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin.
>> He basically turned back on a lot of people who'd previously been banned from the platform, the kind of bad actors who were using Twitter to abuse people, to bully people, to intimidate people, again, to propagate anti-Semitism and anti-Black racism and fairly awful stuff.
>> JACOBY: Musk defended the amnesty, stating that the company was using its algorithms to ensure that even if hateful content was posted on Twitter, that content would not get seen by many users.
>> There's more of an allowance for what you might, what some might call hate speech on the system, but it's just, it's not going to be promoted, it's not… Like, it's, we're not going to be recommending hate speech.
(laughs): Just at the risk of stating the obvious.
>> JACOBY: He argued that the critical thing to tackle was "hate speech impressions," the number of times a tweet actually shows up on someone's timeline or search results.
>> You're doing a lot more to take down hate speech than the company previously was doing.
>> Yeah, absolutely.
Like, hate speech impressions are down by a third and will get even, um, lower.
>> JACOBY: But this claim was almost impossible to verify.
>> There was a moment shortly after I left Twitter when the company said that every week, they would put out new data about the prevalence of hate speech.
To the contrary, Twitter has actually cut back on the level of data available to researchers who want to study the platform.
Twitter went from being one of the most transparent companies to one of the least.
>> The Twitterverse exploding over that controversial tweet… >> JACOBY: Part of Twitter's problem was Musk himself.
>> He deleted that tweet, but not before it got more than 100,000 likes… >> JACOBY: His tweets at times became dark and conspiratorial.
>> Just 48 hours after the violent attack on Paul Pelosi in San Francisco, Elon Musk, Twitter's new C.E.O., tweeted out a conspiracy theory about the attack.
>> There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye.
>> The article questions Mr. Pelosi's sexuality, even suggesting he may have known his attacker.
>> It was so homophobic, it was crazy.
Here's the owner of Twitter retweeting misinformation about an attack on a man and in an anti-gay way?
I was, like, "Who does this?"
And then it got just weird and mean, like, constant attacks, constant retweeting misinformation.
Then he started doing transphobic stuff.
He's got a kid who's trans.
(stammers): That was, like, shocking.
And so it just went on and on and on and on.
And it was, like, "What in the world happened to you?"
>> JACOBY: Musk deleted the post about Paul Pelosi and would later apologize.
But the controversial tweets kept coming.
>> He would stay up late, drink Red Bull, take Ambien.
Sometimes he would get into this dark, demon mode, and that's when the very paranoid or conspiratorial tweets came out.
One day, he was traveling with a friend, Antonio Gracias, and Musk had kept tweeting late at night, doing these ridiculous tweets, sometimes very harmful ones.
And so the friend said, "Let me take your phone and I'm gonna put it in the safe here in the hotel room."
Friend punches in the code and he said, "That way, you can't use it late at night."
At 3:00 in the morning, Musk calls hotel security to get them to open the safe and he starts doing tweets.
He was addicted to tweeting.
♪ ♪ Late one night in the workroom at Twitter, with some of his young cousins, they all got kind of giddy and were joking.
And at one point, somebody suggested, "Hey, make your pronouns 'prosecute/Fauci.'"
Now, there's something that could both insult people who are trans, insult Anthony Fauci, but they all started laughing about it, and then finally, Musk tweeted it out.
>> My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci.
(tweet posts) >> That tweet infuriated people around him.
It infuriated his girlfriend, it infuriated his brother.
It showed Elon Musk was skittering a bit around that deep rabbit hole of conspiracy theories.
>> He wants to erode the very fabric of civilization.
Soros hates humanity.
(tweet posts) >> JACOBY: One night, Musk tweeted about George Soros, the Jewish billionaire and frequent target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
>> He described him as like Magneto.
Of course, Magneto is a comic book character from "X-Men" who was a Jewish survivor himself.
But Magneto seeks to destroy humanity.
And when you suggest that someone like Soros, a real person, wants to do something like that, we've seen how it leads to violence.
When we use words carelessly, it can create consequences.
>> And that's what deeply troubled me about what Elon said.
>> You know, people today saying, "He's an anti-Semite."
>> I'm, like, a pro-Semite.
>> JACOBY: On CNBC, Musk was asked why he continued to risk his business and his brand.
>> There's a scene in "The Princess Bride," great movie.
>> Great movie.
>> Um… Where he confronts the person who killed his father.
And he says… (stammering) "Offer me money, offer me power, I don't care."
I'll say what I want to say, and if, if the consequence of that is losing money, so be it.
(tweet posts) Musk's tweets had the power to marshal an army of followers.
Shortly after he left the company, Yoel Roth found out what it was like to be on the receiving end.
When a false accusation surfaced on Twitter that Roth condoned pedophilia, Musk chimed in.
>> Elon Musk, with more than 100 million Twitter followers, responds to these insinuations that I condone pedophilia.
And he says… >> This explains a lot.
(tweet posts) >> The threats against me went from being, "You're biased and you deserve to die"… …to being, "You're a child molester and you deserve to die.
You're trafficking children and you deserve to die."
>> I think he's a sexual deviant.
>> It seems like a lot of these people that were on Twitter seem to be, um, child enthusiasts.
>> That's the kind of guy that was censoring you.
That guy– that should frighten everybody.
>> "The Daily Mail" went further and published where I live.
And so at that point, it was not just threatening emails and texts and phone calls.
It was the very real possibility that somebody could show up at my house.
There were people emotionally activated to fight against a cabal of pedophiles with me apparently as their ringleader.
>> JACOBY: I mean, what was it like for you?
>> For the first time in a long time, I was terrified.
I was no stranger to being harassed online, but I feared for my life.
>> JACOBY: What would you say to Musk in reaction to doing something like that?
To using his position and his power in that way?
>> I think there's so many ways that somebody with Elon Musk's resources, influence, and ability to reach the public could advance the public conversation on issues that matter.
But to use his power to terrorize a former employee, to baselessly accuse a gay man of being a pedophile, one of the oldest, most offensive, most dangerous tropes out there, it's inhumane.
>> JACOBY: As the attacks on Yoel Roth continued, Musk embarked on a new campaign.
He began to suspend some Twitter users he took issue with.
>> For years, there has been a Twitter account, ElonJet.
It has been posting where Elon's jet is.
This is public information.
Elon has hated this ElonJet account.
And then Elon claimed someone had been stalking his son.
>> Hi, hi, hi!
>> (chuckling) >> A stalker came by where he was staying in Los Angeles, and he thought, well, maybe it's 'cause they've tracked us on ElonJet.
>> Last night, car carrying lil X in L.A. was followed by crazy stalker who later blocked car from moving and climbed onto hood.
>> If there's one thing sure to trigger Elon Musk, it's a threat to his kids, and especially this kid, X.
So he shuts down ElonJet.
>> Twitter account @ElonJet suspended.
>> I did the appeal thing and I just, like, said, you know, I don't believe I violated any terms.
>> Which is surprising given that he's talking about free speech on the platform except if you track where he goes on his private plane.
>> JACOBY: In response, Musk tweeted… >> Real-time posting of someone else's location violates doxing policy.
(tweet posts) >> Doxing is revealing the identity or location or address of an individual online.
A number of journalists posted links to the public flight pattern… >> …that anyone can find.
And Elon got rid of those people, too.
>> International criticism raining down on the billionaire after the social network suspended several journalists.
>> "The Washington Post's" Drew Harwell, "The New York Times's" Ryan Mac, and CNN's Donie O'Sullivan have fallen prey to Twitter's blocking spree.
>> He shuts down any journalist who had referred to or linked to ElonJet.
And it made no sense.
It really was a violation of this notion of free speech.
>> JACOBY: Soon Musk was prohibiting users from posting links to rival sites, as well.
>> Twitter suspending accounts of upstart rival service Mastodon… >> This all comes one month after Musk proclaimed he wanted Twitter to be a place of free speech and would grant "amnesty" to all previously banned accounts and reinstate them.
>> I thought that was hypocritical.
The idea that Elon is some kind of hero against doxing, takes some kind of stand against publishing people's personal information, is complete and total nonsense.
>> JACOBY: Reporter Linette Lopez, who'd been attacked by Musk and his followers before, took to Twitter with her criticism.
Within a day, she, too, found herself locked out with no explanation.
>> I always say that Elon is a law-and-order guy as long as he writes the laws and gives the orders.
That's how he felt about free speech on Twitter.
"I love free speech as long as the speech is mine and I have the freedom to say whatever I want."
But there were a lot of people on Twitter who didn't seem to get that same respect.
>> I mean, what he's doing, it's like Whac-A-Mole, he sees something and he's gonna smack it down.
But how do you broadly enforce that?
>> Critics calling the move dangerous and hypocritical.
>> JACOBY: Amid the criticism, Musk ran a Twitter poll, and ultimately backtracked on the suspensions.
>> There's been global backlash after Elon Musk's Twitter suspended the accounts of several journalists on Thursday.
>> "All-In" podcast, now sponsored by… >> JACOBY: Even some of Musk's allies on the podcast "All-In" were now questioning his judgment.
>> He came in and did exactly what the old regime did, which is that he took the rules and he took the "moderation policies," and he found a way to use them to make some editorialized decisions that he thought was appropriate.
>> I think that hopefully, he gets all this (bleep) under control over there.
He finds a good executive team.
I would like to see him get back to landing rockets on barges, getting to Mars.
Getting to… >> Finish self-driving!
We're almost there.
(camera shutter clicking) >> JACOBY: Musk appeared to be listening.
After watching the World Cup final with Jared Kushner, he asked his followers to respond to another poll.
>> Should I step down as head of Twitter?
I will abide by the results of this poll.
>> JACOBY: 57% of voters said yes, Musk should step down.
Three days later, he sounded deflated.
>> This company is, is like… Like, basically, you're in a plane that is headed towards the ground at high speed, uh, with the engines on fire and the controls don't work.
>> JACOBY: Musk said he was going to stay on until he could find a new C.E.O.
But he'd continue to make impulsive decisions.
>> Super Bowl Sunday has arrived.
>> Elon Musk flies on his private jet to the Super Bowl.
He's sitting in the stands, watching the game.
>> Wow, you got some brilliant minds in that photo.
Rupert Murdoch, Elon Musk.
>> And he tweets out, basically, his support for the Philadelphia Eagles.
I think his tweet was something like "Go, Eagles!"
with a few American flags on it.
(tweet posts) Biden, around the same time, posts a somewhat similar tweet.
"Fly, Eagles, Fly."
(tweet posts) And it's a video of his wife, Jill Biden, who's walking with an Eagles jersey on.
(crowd cheering) The game goes on, Elon Musk checks his phone.
Weird– it looks like Joe Biden, who he's called "a damp sock puppet in human form," is doing much better than he is in terms of engagement on this very similar tweet.
>> JACOBY: Zoe Schiffer and her colleague at Platformer spoke to multiple sources at Twitter about what happened next.
>> By the end of the game, the Eagles lose, and Elon is completely furious, like, something is going on with his account, in his mind.
And so he gets on his jet.
He flies straight back to Twitter's office in San Francisco.
>> JACOBY: At 2:36 a.m., she says an urgent message went out, and roughly 80 engineers were pulled into work.
>> And they're tasked with fixing the issues with the algorithm.
What the engineers decide to do is reconfigure the algorithm so that Elon Musk's account is boosted.
Very quickly, we're able to talk to people who were in the room at the time and were working on these algorithmic changes.
And the reason that people are talking to us is that people are pissed at this point.
>> JACOBY: The effect was immediate.
>> If you use Twitter and you feel like you've been seeing a lot of Elon Musk lately, you're not crazy.
>> The entire "For You" feed was just Elon Musk.
>> Because it behooves all of us to be privy to the fresh and original insights of the richest man in the world.
>> I was seeing so much Elon, and then I tweeted, "Is anyone else's 'For You' tab, like, just Elon Musk today?"
And it was, like, hundreds of people were, like, "Yes," like, "What is happening?"
>> JACOBY: Musk posted a provocative meme.
He then denied his tweets had been deliberately boosted at all, and blamed a glitch in the algorithm for what had happened.
So what was it like to observe that?
Going from this free-speech absolutist who's upset about how Twitter had been wielding its power.
Now he's in charge.
It seems like he's, at this point, he's like a king who wants to make up his own rules.
>> You know, Musk feels, I'm gonna be free, I'm not gonna be restrained, and he can not be a pretty sight at times, but that's the Musk that also gets things done.
He's always wanted to be king of the playground.
>> JACOBY: Amid the chaos of his first months running Twitter, Musk made another impulsive decision that would reverberate across American politics and have far-reaching implications for free speech online.
>> The Twitter Files on free speech suppression soon to be published on Twitter itself.
The public deserves to know what really happened.
(tweet posts) >> JACOBY: As always, he announced it with a tweet.
>> Are you doing all the people together or… >> JACOBY: Musk had assembled a team of writers critical of the mainstream media and given them access to a trove of internal documents in an effort to expose how Twitter had censored users before he bought it.
Matt Taibbi was the first person Musk brought in.
Did you come in with any degree of skepticism?
You know, what was his real motivation here, what, was he using you in some way?
>> Of course I worried about that.
>> JACOBY: Yeah.
>> Of course I worried, is he, is he using me?
But what I decided from the beginning was, I want to look at the material.
If the stuff in there looks like it can be confirmed, I'm just going to focus on that.
And I'm not going to worry about his motivations as long as I feel like the stuff in the stories is, is right.
♪ ♪ >> JACOBY: Taibbi and the team combed through thousands of company emails and internal communications.
They started publishing a series of controversial stories known as the Twitter Files.
>> In the words of Elon Musk, "Here we go."
(phone buttons clicking) He alerted his 119 million followers to a long thread called The Twitter Files.
(tweet posts) >> Twitter Files.
>> Twitter Files.
>> Twitter Files.
>> Twitter Files.
>> JACOBY: Most major news organizations were skeptical of the Twitter Files.
>> Potentially what has been presented is selective.
>> Twitter employees knew what they were doing was effed up.
>> JACOBY: But Fox News seized on them.
>> It wasn't a smoking gun.
It was a flaming howitzer.
>> JACOBY: Some of the most explosive stories revealed that Twitter de-platformed and de-amplified certain users and content.
>> Apparently I'm on the list.
>> JACOBY: Sometimes at the request of government.
>> I wrote a tweet that began, "It doesn't stop infection or transmission," and they banned me.
>> We know for a fact that the White House singled out Alex Berenson, a reporter skeptical of the COVID vaccine, to be taken down, and they de-platformed him.
That's so far beyond the bounds of what's acceptable.
(cameras clicking) >> JACOBY: Michael Shellenberger– a writer known for his contentious positions on climate, nuclear, and drug policies– was part of the project.
>> I think the whole point of having a platform is, it's supposed to be reflective of a society, and it's going to allow a lot of different views, including ones that we disagree with and ones that we think are outright lies.
It's the whole point of free speech.
Actually a right to be wrong, a right to disagree, a right to spread… You know, one person's misinformation is another person's point of view.
>> Yoel Roth, who is this guy?
>> JACOBY: Yoel Roth was once again singled out.
>> Yoel Roth, again, ironically the global head of trust and safety… >> JACOBY: He was accused of secretly suppressing users deemed to be spreading misinformation.
>> His name is Yoel Roth.
>> Yoel Roth.
>> You may not know Yoel Roth, but you need to.
A lot of people didn't know about George Soros a long time ago.
>> JACOBY: Were these people getting filtered?
Were they getting… You know, was… >> JACOBY: Were these systems used to basically downgrade their reach?
>> Yes, and Twitter said it would do that in the Help Center in the Twitter rules.
When accounts violated the Twitter rules, whether it was posting COVID misinformation or election misinformation, if they did it repeatedly, they might get a label like "do not amplify" on their account.
>> JACOBY: Would they know about that?
>> They wouldn't.
Twitter didn't disclose those labels publicly, because it didn't have the tools for doing so, and I, I think that's a reasonable criticism.
But people act like the whole practice was a mystery and was a conspiracy.
It wasn't, it was in the rules.
The rules explicitly stated that accounts that violated the rules would receive visibility filtering, and they did.
>> JACOBY: But, I mean, address the point directly if, of that you were secretly suppressing specific viewpoints, especially on the right.
>> I don't think that's what the Twitter Files show.
And I don't know that we've done a comprehensive analysis that demonstrates that these actions were skewed or biased one way or the other.
I think we've seen a handful of cherry-picked examples.
Now, I think there's a reasonable question to ask whether accounts on the left and on the right had the same rate of violation of the Twitter rules.
Do Democrats break the rules as often as Republicans?
I don't know.
That's a really good question that should be studied.
But when you see a handful of examples of it and conclude that those must be the only types of accounts that received visibility filtering, I just, I don't think there's enough evidence there to support that conclusion.
♪ ♪ >> The real winner in this is Elon Musk, right?
>> JACOBY: Elon Musk was delighted with the controversy, even though he was using his own methods to suppress content he didn't like.
>> Almost every conspiracy theory that people had about Twitter turned out to be true.
(laughing): So… (all laughing) Is there a conspiracy theory about Twitter that didn't turn out to be true?
I think so far, they've all turned out to be true.
And if not… (stammers) More true than people thought.
>> JACOBY: The Twitter Files team went on to publish portions of emails to Twitter from government agencies and academic institutions that were flagging potential misinformation about vaccines and voting, as well as possible foreign efforts to disrupt elections.
The messages asked Twitter to review the content and consider taking action.
Musk's team claimed it was evidence of a conspiracy to censor Americans.
>> Twitter Files journalists say they uncovered a censorship industrial complex… >> JACOBY: They called it a "censorship industrial complex."
>> The degree to which various government agencies had, effectively had full access to everything that was going on in Twitter blew my mind.
>> JACOBY: That's a big claim, right?
That is a big claim, to say that there's a censorship industrial complex.
It also sort of implies that the government is successfully exerting its influence on these companies to infringe upon the First Amendment rights of Americans.
>> Well, I would…
I think they are.
I think that's probably the case.
>> JACOBY: Mm-hmm.
>> JACOBY: When you say "probably the case," you mean what?
>> I mean, is it, is it technically against the law?
I don't know whether it's technically a First Amendment violation.
It's censorship to me.
I just think that the fact that they're doing it at all is maybe not legitimate.
I definitely don't want the Department of Homeland Security making decisions about what can be published and what can't be published, or what's going to be amplified or not amplified.
>> JACOBY: Well, they're not making decisions.
They're sending requests, as you said, to these companies like Twitter, right?
>> I just don't, I don't want them involved at all in doing that.
And I, I don't think I'm alone.
I think a lot of people feel the same way.
>> JACOBY: According to the Twitter Files team, a key part of the so-called censorship industrial complex was a group of academics running a project called the Election Integrity Partnership.
>> I just read "the election integrity committee," I get super-suspicious.
>> Oh, yeah.
>> Just the, just the name of that.
>> I mean, Joe, they basically would "flag" hundreds of millions of tweets.
>> That's insane.
>> And tens of millions of them were censored.
>> The claims that we tried to censor– I think I've seen anywhere from 22 million to 800 million tweets– that is a staggering number of tweets.
There is no universe in which that could have happened.
And there is no evidence in the Twitter Files that it did, because it didn't.
>> JACOBY: Renée DiResta helped run the Election Integrity Partnership, which was set up in 2020 by academics and researchers studying the problem of misinformation.
Its purpose was to flag election misinformation to platforms and government, both of which were coming under increasing pressure to deal with the issue.
>> The goal of it is not to disenfranchise or silence or censor anybody.
The goal of it is to ensure that the best possible information is out there so that the public can see it.
And if there had been emails in which we were demanding platforms take things down, the Twitter Files investigators could have released those.
But they didn't, because they don't exist.
>> JACOBY: DiResta's role in the partnership and was held out as proof of the so-called conspiracy due to her work as an adviser to the Senate Intelligence Committee and her background as a C.I.A.
>> One of the big leaders of the censorship industrial complex is this person named Renée DiResta… >> It's very hard to get people angry about a concept.
It is not as hard to rile them up about a person.
>> Renée DiResta, a former C.I.A.
fellow– at least, allegedly former…
I think she's dangerous and needs to be disempowered… >> Michael Shellenberger used me and he made me the face of this thing.
And he took the fact that, you know, I had interned for the agency as an undergrad, which had never been a secret, and he somehow turned it into part of a vast cabal.
You get turned into a character.
>> JACOBY: What's that been like?
It leads to death threats, it leads to harassment, and…
It is very, very hard for me to refute any of it, because in the environment that we live in, people who trust Michael Shellenberger are going to be disinclined to trust me.
>> JACOBY: The Twitter Files claim to kind of uncover this sort of coalition, right?
>> JACOBY: Between folks like yourself, the academic portion of this… >> Mm-hmm.
>> JACOBY: …government, and big tech, and that essentially this all adds up to a censorship industrial complex.
So, what, on the face of it, what are we supposed to make of that claim?
>> Well, I mean, on the face of it, there's no actual evidence for it in the Twitter Files.
This is the thing that I, that's been the most remarkable piece of the whole thing, is that the evidence does not appear in the Twitter files.
But, you know, there's always this grain of truth that provides the seed on which a conspiracy can be built.
And so, is it true, that, um, you know, that our team briefs the government?
Yes, yes, it is.
Is it true that our team talks to Twitter and Facebook?
Occasionally, yes, we do.
That's never been a secret.
Does that translate into, we talk to them about the need to take down conservatives?
No, absolutely not.
>> Critics are saying that Musk and his allies are misrepresenting the work of Twitter's former management.
>> Taibbi also admitted that the Trump campaign asked for content moderation… >> Yes.
>> …and then he left those links out.
>> What is Taibbi doing?
>> There's a lot of omission in the Twitter Files, a lot you and your colleagues don't tell us.
You mention in passing, for example, in your very first thread, that the Trump White House made requests of Twitter, too… >> JACOBY: As the writers of the Twitter Files kept publishing, they were criticized for multiple factual errors, quoting emails without context, and jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions.
>> Do you know what the 22 million number is, Matt?
Can you tell me?
Because we checked.
22 million came after the election, it wasn't in the run-up.
They flagged 3,000, so you were off by 21,997,000… >> They've said a lot of things.
(stammering): I, I stand by my story.
>> JACOBY: I've got to ask you, because, I mean… (stammering): You know, both fellow journalists and some of the subjects of your reporting have called out some inaccuracies in the reporting.
I mean, what, what happened there?
Were you, were you sloppy with some facts?
>> JACOBY: How does that not affect the credibility of what you're going for here?
>> I mean, I've been doing this for 30 years.
If you go back and look at my record, I haven't had to issue a whole lot of corrections in my life.
I try extremely hard to get everything correct.
In this case, we got a few things wrong.
♪ ♪ >> JACOBY: Musk's Twitter Files didn't end up proving a grand conspiracy.
But they did fuel a larger conversation about the relationship between government and social media companies– and raised important questions about the extent to which government has been pressuring platforms to remove content.
>> We welcome our witnesses and thank them for appearing today, we will begin by swearing you in– would you please stand and raise your right hand?
>> JACOBY: Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger were called to testify by Republican Congressman Jim Jordan– a Trump supporter who, for years, has insisted that big tech has been biased against conservatives.
That is, until Elon Musk bought Twitter.
>> I mean, God bless him.
We wouldn't know any of this but for the fact that this guy, hard work, smart guy, who– this amazing success story– who decided to go buy Twitter 'cause he cares so much about the First Amendment.
I think he's been just amazingly transparent, and God bless him for doing it.
Now we all know why– you guys said at the outset, this is the most chilling story, and you guys are "New York Times" bestsellers, award-winning journalists.
But in all your, your time in the, in the journalism field, this issue, most important.
And how this…
I think, what did you call it, Mr. Shellenberger, this complex?
What did you call it?
The… >> The censorship industrial complex.
>> Totally– this web of censorship, big government, big tech, NGOs, all this web of censorship, that's what this committee is going to get to, and that's not right or left.
This is just right or wrong.
This is wrong, we know it's wrong, and it's about protecting the First Amendment.
>> JACOBY: When you say that big government is colluding with tech companies like Twitter to censor people, what do you mean by censor?
What does it, what does it actually mean?
>> Take down political speech, um, you know, to take down speech that you, that governments label as misinformation.
You step back and you think, that's not supposed to be how it works in America, but yet that is in fact what was going on.
You have multiple examples of that.
You know, take this down, can you work on removing this one?
Are you limiting the visibility of this one?
All from the government to a private company.
>> JACOBY: Well, you say it.
It's a private company.
So doesn't the private company ultimately make the decision as to what they choose to promote or suppress or take down?
>> You can't have this censorship industrial complex and then get away with saying, "Oh, but by the way, it wasn't us doing it, it was the private company."
>> JACOBY: Do you think that the government has a role in working with the tech companies to prevent foreign interference with elections?
>> What we're, what we're focused on primarily is the limitations on political speech.
This idea that, you know, other people who had a different view on certain aspects of how the country dealt with the COVID pandemic and, and the vaccine issue, that they were censored.
That's our big concern, is protecting the First Amendment.
When you start having the government tell you what is misinformation, disinformation, or the scariest one of all, malinformation.
Malinformation is, it's true statements, but we don't like the context.
We don't like what people take from that, so we're going, we're going to censor that, too.
That is really frightening.
>> JACOBY: But again, though, I, and on the specific issues, though, in terms of foreign disinformation, right, do you agree that's a threat?
>> Yeah, no one, no one appreciates that.
No one likes that.
No one wants that happening.
But the First Amendment's the First Amendment.
>> JACOBY: Several former Twitter employees were called to testify, including Anika Collier Navaroli.
>> I want to let you know that this is a violation of the First Amendment, and the federal government is colluding with social media companies to censor Americans.
>> JACOBY: Do you think that what you were engaged in at Twitter was censorship?
>> I mean, no, I was, censorship is done by the government and I've never worked for a government entity.
The American First Amendment is very clear on who it applies to, right?
The very first words are, "Congress shall make no law," right?
It is not about private companies.
It is not about Twitter, it is not about Facebook.
It is not about any of these, you know, private companies making decisions about speech, right?
Companies are, have always been allowed to do these things.
They've always been allowed to regulate their rules and make rules and decide what you can and can't say.
>> Now, Mr. Roth, you were part of the secretive SIP-PES censorship team at Twitter, correct?
>> No, sir, I'm not sure what that refers to.
>> JACOBY: Not surprisingly, Yoel Roth came under fire.
>> Mr. Roth, while at Twitter, how many meetings did you have with the FBI?
>> I couldn't say for sure, but I… >> More than ten?
>> That's a reasonable estimate.
>> More than 20?
>> I couldn't say for sure.
>> More than 50?
>> That seems a bit high.
>> JACOBY: In your experience, did the federal government use its power to coerce Twitter to make decisions about content moderation?
Do I know whether it was the federal government's intention to coerce the platform?
No, I have no idea.
But I know that in practice, there were no decisions that Twitter made that were the product of a demand from the U.S. government, or from any other government, to remove content, or censor content, or restrict content related to the election.
Twitter made those decisions independently.
>> JACOBY: If you step back from it, though, and you, you see the amount of interactions that there were between you and the government agencies, FBI and others, I mean, is there anything potentially problematic about how tight a relationship that was?
>> I think it would be a problem if the government were involved in the policing of speech.
But it's not what happened in reality.
And in fact, the Twitter Files show again and again that when we receive requests, we evaluate them against our rules.
And if the conduct violates our policies, we enforce them.
And if it doesn't, we don't.
And if the reports came from the FBI, we evaluated them the same way that we would if they came from the DNC, the RNC, a member of Congress, or an ordinary user.
>> JACOBY: You know, the FBI is a little bit different than, you know, even the DNC complaining about something.
It's the FBI, right?
When the FBI comes knocking, it's naïve to think that that doesn't have some sort of an effect, right?
I mean, the fact that they're sending a request might be coercive just by doing so.
>> I disagree.
If you look at the Twitter Files, you see again and again that my team and I pushed back on the FBI, on DHS, on anyone who brought us something that wasn't true and wasn't valid.
(camera shutter clicking) >> JACOBY: Jim Jordan's investigation has also targeted former government officials.
You're the poster child for censorship.
>> Yeah, yeah, even though I never had any intention or desire to censor anyone.
>> JACOBY: Back in April 2022, Nina Jankowicz was appointed to lead a new board inside the Department of Homeland Security, part of a broader push by the Biden administration to respond to misinformation in the wake of the pandemic and lies about the 2020 election.
It was called the Disinformation Governance Board.
>> I mean, the name is pretty bad, right?
I think it evokes a lot of, um, kind of, you know, authoritarian vibes to it.
And I understand why people would shiver when they heard it.
But the idea of the name wasn't that it would be governing all of disinformation in the country.
It was that it would be governing the department's response to disinformation.
>> JACOBY: When the new board was announced, Elon Musk quickly weighed in.
>> This is messed up.
(tweet posts) >> JACOBY: What was the board going to do and what was DHS going to do about disinformation?
>> It's less sexy than it might seem.
We never had any intention of censoring.
But we, as any government agency does, look at social media to understand what is happening.
And in some cases, you know, with things relating to the security of the homeland– elections, infrastructure, borders, natural disasters– there might be narratives of concern.
And what the department would then do, likely, although we never got to this point, right?
We would likely put out good information.
The problem was, the department didn't communicate well at all about what the board was.
And what was filled into that vacuum was a bunch of lies.
>> Nina Jankowicz, who's, like, a total idiot, obviously… >> This woman is a clear Democrat-supporting authoritarian.
>> There are concerns from critics about this new executive director, Nina Jankowicz.
>> JACOBY: As the controversy grew, Jankowicz herself came under attacked.
>> I want to be clear that it wasn't just criticism.
This was an allegation that the board was going to be a minister of truth, and that it would have the power to send "men with guns to the homes of Americans who expressed opinions that the government didn't like."
That is what Tucker Carlson said about the board and about me.
>> Men with guns plan to "identify individuals who could be descending into violence."
"Could be descending."
>> JACOBY: When a conservative commentator on Twitter compared the disinformation board to Nazi Germany, Elon Musk weighed in.
(tweet posts) >> Elon Musk says the idea that the feds will watch what we say and believe is one thing only: "Discomforting."
>> All's well that's Orwell.
(tweet posts) >> JACOBY: How did Elon Musk contribute to the controversy swirling around you and the governance board?
>> Every time Elon Musk responded to any of the conspiracy theories about the board or about me, there was almost certainly a bump in the harassment and threats that I received.
When Musk responds to something with his millions of followers, it, it by nature then kind of surfaces that tweet.
>> JACOBY: The backlash put an end to the Disinformation Governance Board before it even got off the ground.
But the threats continued.
>> They really ran the gamut.
A lot of people saying that I had been, committed treason and should pay the price.
People threatening my child, who at that point was unborn.
(chuckles): I was a few weeks away from giving birth.
My family and I were doxed, so our address was released multiple times.
I had a private security consultant looking at the dark web for me, and he advised me at that point that I probably shouldn't be doing things like going to the coffee shop alone or getting gas alone.
>> JACOBY: Jim Jordan's committee accused Jankowicz of leading an "un-American attempt "to establish a de facto Ministry of Truth within the federal government."
Do you think that there have been legitimate questions asked about where the line should be when it comes to the government's role in working on disinformation?
>> I think those are reasonable questions that deserve to be discussed in a really nuanced and nonpartisan manner, and that is not what we have.
Having had conversations with people like Representative Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz, because they subpoenaed me and I had to go to a deposition, I don't believe that they think that the government is actually censoring people.
I think that the intention of the campaign against disinformation researchers is to give the Republican Party more leeway in how it presents the truth.
The idea is that they can certainly play fast and loose with, with the truth.
And I think that benefits them, as we've seen with 2020, January 6, et cetera, et cetera.
>> Congressman Jordan, take a bow, sir.
You helped get rid of the Ministry of Truth.
Um, thank you for doing that.
>> JACOBY: What do you have to say to the people that believe that this investigation, one, is creating a chilling effect that will enable people to, to spread lies about election integrity in 2024?
And let me ask you– no, no.
>> (chuckles): James… >> JACOBY: I just, I think you're gonna have to address it.
And the fact of the matter is… >> (laughs): I am addressing it!
I just can't believe you're asking the question, James.
>> JACOBY: Why is that?
Because it's– listen, in the January 6 committee, right?
They, the report said you were a significant player in Trump's efforts to overturn the election results following his defeat.
And according to the report, you participated in numerous post-election meetings in which senior White House officials… No, I mean, why is this laughable?
>> No, because you're saying, you're saying that, that us investigating the censorship of speech by Americans is going to have a chilling effect, and it's, like, you've got it backwards.
They chilled speech.
Big tech, big government pressure them, "Take down these tweets.
Take down this material."
That's the chilling impact on speech, 'cause it doesn't get done.
And now you're trying to say, like, Jim Jordan, who's investigating this, is somehow chilling speech?
You got to be kidding me.
>> They censored truthful data… >> JACOBY: The claim that the government has been censoring Americans is now being fought out in the courts.
>> A federal appeals court has ruled that the Biden administration likely overstepped First Amendment protections… >> JACOBY: In one ongoing federal court case, newly revealed communications between the White House and social media companies have led to a ruling that the Biden administration likely violated the First Amendment in its efforts to curtail misinformation.
The issue may now be heading to the Supreme Court, but the targets of Musk's Twitter Files say there are already far-reaching consequences.
>> Social media is a battlefield, and I think anybody who's going to war is going to try to skew the battlefield to their advantage.
One way to do that is to make companies too scared to do what Twitter did for years.
And I think every platform from now until the end of time is going to think about what it would mean to fact check one of Donald Trump's tweets.
Perhaps we're past that point, but for every hearing, for every report, for every news cycle, platforms are going to hesitate just a little bit more before the next time they take some type of politically controversial action.
>> All of this work, and all of this effort that so many people went and put into attempting to defend our democracies and defend our information ecosystems is very much starting to fall apart.
(machinery clanging) >> Twitter's blue bird logo is no more.
And it was replaced with a giant X.
>> JACOBY: By summer 2023, Musk's long-term plans for X were finally coming into focus.
With the company losing money fast, he made good on his promise to appoint a new CEO.
>> She is Linda Yaccarino, who's just left a top position running ad sales at NBC Universal.
>> Elon focuses on product design, and I'm responsible for the rest, running the company.
>> JACOBY: Musk and Yaccarino signaled an ambitious new direction for X– a so-called "everything app" for messaging, calls, social media posts, entertainment, payments, and more.
>> I was joining the company to partner with Elon to transform Twitter into X, the everything app.
>> She's a very high-ranking ad executive, probably one of the top ones in the country.
Maybe she will figure it out.
Maybe they can make it into a big business.
She thinks she can make it a good home and an effective home for advertisers.
Of course, she knows as someone who bought advertising, maybe it's not a good home for advertisers.
>> JACOBY: Well, Musk isn't a guy who's, like, failed all that many times.
>> JACOBY: I mean, he's, he's been wildly successful.
He sends rockets into space.
He's got, you know, an incredible car company.
Cars and rockets are not media.
>> JACOBY: This is harder than rocket science?
>> It's not harder or less hard, it's just different.
And just because you play basketball doesn't mean you're good at baseball.
The problem with a lot of these tech people is because they think they're good at one thing, they're good at everything.
And that's just not the case.
>> Okay, okay, let me see, is this working?
(laughs) Well, let's just make sure this thing is working first.
>> I really apprec… appreciate Elon coming down and giving an unfiltered, uh, uh, depiction of what's happening on the border.
>> This is not, like, you know, a piece that's being filmed and then subsequently edited and whatnot.
>> JACOBY: Under Musk, X is becoming a home for what he calls citizen journalism and a platform to some of the most divisive voices.
>> Hey, it's Tucker Carlson.
We are told there are no gatekeepers here.
If that turns out to be false, we'll leave.
>> JACOBY: Tucker Carlson started a show on X after he was kicked off Fox News.
>> We'll get bigger ratings using this crazy forum that you're using than probably the debate.
>> Billionaires want to own media platforms.
I've never seen a billionaire own a media platform that so obviously is using it as a personal platform.
He has a megaphone for his perspective.
(gun firing) He has used it to maliciously attack people via the "Twitter Files."
He has used it to spread actual misinformation.
And I worry about what then is happening behind the scenes and, importantly, what's going to happen in the next election, not just in the U.S., but also other countries around the world.
>> JACOBY: On the world stage, it's become clear that Musk's rhetoric about free speech does not necessarily extend to other countries.
>> The Turkish government asked Twitter to censor its opponents right before an election and Elon Musk complied.
>> Tonight, Elon Musk under fire after Twitter appears to have censored links to a BBC documentary that's critical of the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.
>> You know, Elon has said that he does not believe in free speech as a concept that goes beyond borders.
That each country has its own idea of free speech.
>> The best we can do, um, is really to, uh, hew close to the law in any given country.
>> Which, if you don't want to get kicked out of certain nations, is certainly the business perspective to take.
Elon desperately wants to get Tesla into India.
So the fact that he has subjugated his desire for free speech in Modi's India does not shock me at all.
>> I'm confident that Tesla will be in India and will do so as soon as humanly possible.
>> Someone very smart said to me, this is a guy with other business interests around the world, especially SpaceX and Tesla and Starlink.
He needs influence around the world with autocrats and governments.
When he walks in a room as the head of Tesla, okay, just another, like, look, Ford walks in, it's the same thing, he's on the same level.
But when he's also the owner of Twitter, he gets a little more attention and it gives him political power.
(applause) >> You don't need any introduction.
You have been always proven right.
Now there is… >> (chuckles) Not always.
>> There are some people who believe that you are a genius.
And there are some who are… believe that you are evil.
>> I am, um, definitely not evil.
(laughter) So… hopefully not evil.
Aspirationally not evil, um, so… yeah.
♪ ♪ >> SpaceX says all system are go for its launch of the most powerful rocket ever into orbit.
>> JACOBY: Almost a year since he bought Twitter, Elon Musk is more powerful than ever.
>> Elon Musk's brain chip company is looking for volunteers for its first human trial.
>> Elon Musk starting his own artificial intelligence company.
>> Booster up, your chamber pressure's nominal.
>> JACOBY: He's also more controversial than ever.
>> Elon Musk threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League.
>> Reports Elon Musk refused to provide Starlink access to the Ukrainian military.
>> Musk has a obsessive belief that there's only one overriding principle, and those are the laws of physics.
If it's policy, if it's sentiment, if it's anything else, you can push back and ignore it.
>> The entire starship stack continuing to rotate, we should have had separation by now.
Obviously this is… does not appear to be a nominal situation.
♪ ♪ (crowd groans) >> He's willing to shoot off rockets and let them blow up.
He's willing to fire engineers at Twitter and see if it survives.
And he feels that we've become a society filled with more referees than innovators, filled with more lawyers than doers.
>> Live (indistinct) of our control center at starbase.
>> Musk has one rule that guides him, which is never be constrained by the rules.
>> Go to pbs.org/frontline for more of our reporting on social media and tech platforms like Facebook and Amazon.
>> But are you basically concerned that Amazon is a monopoly?
>> And check out our new streaming series "“FRONTLINE short docs"” on YouTube and PBS.
Connect with FRONTLINE on Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter, and watch anytime on the PBS app, YouTube or pbs.org/frontline.
Captioned by Media Access Group at WGBH access.wgbh.org.
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