U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, appeared to be the only Democrat who expressed concerns about the ramifications of Twitter’s decision to censor the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020, according to his communications with the social media platform that were released Friday.
Twitter owner Elon Musk released bombshell revelations Friday evening about what led the tech giant to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story in the final weeks of the 2020 presidential election. Musk outsourced his findings to Substack journalist Matt Taibbi, who published a lengthy thread about what had transpired behind the scenes at Twitter.
“Khanna was the only Democratic official I could find in the files who expressed concern” about the move to censor the story, Taibbi tweeted Friday night.
According to Taibbi, Khanna emailed Vijaya Gadde, then a Twitter executive who was charged with overseeing the social media platform’s trust and safety, legal and public policy, to relay his concerns.
“Generating huge backlash on hill re speech,” Khanna wrote in the Oct. 14, 2020, email. “Happy to chat if you’re up for it.”
Gadde quickly replied, according to screenshots of the email posted by Taibbi. In her email, she went over Twitter’s policies.
In his reply, Khanna seemed more concerned with First Amendment issues concerning the Hunter Biden story reported by the New York Post.
“If there is a hack of classified information or other information that could expose a serious war crime and the NYT (New York Times) was to publish it, I think the NYT should have that right,” Khanna wrote. “A journalist should not be held accountable for the illegal actions of the source unless they actively aided the hack.”
“So to restrict the distribution of that material, especially regarding a Presidential candidate, seems not in keeping of the principles of NYT v. Sullivan,” he added, referring to the landmark 1964 U.S. Supreme Court case that limits the ability of public officials to sue for defamation.
Twitter famously blocked its users from sharing the Post’s reporting of Hunter Biden’s laptop in tweets and in direct messages when the story was published in 2020 during a heated election between President Biden and then-President Trump.
At the time, Twitter Safety alleged that the articles were in violation of its “hacked materials policy.” Twitter’s then-CEO Jack Dorsey admitted his company’s actions were a mistake. Many critics have argued the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story by Big Tech and the media at large was enough to sway the election in favor of his father.
“I say this as a total Biden partisan and convinced he didn’t do anything wrong,” Khanna wrote. “But the story has become more about censorship than relatively innocuous emails and it’s becoming a bigger deal than it would have been.”
He added that “in the heat of a Presidential campaign, restricting dissemination of newspaper articles (even if the NY Post is far right) seems like it will invite more backlash that it will do good,” he said.
He then asked that Gadde keep the communication private between themselves and Dorsey.
“I believe our Constitution and First Amendment are sacred. As the congressman who represents Silicon Valley, I felt Twitter’s actions were a violation of First Amendment principles so I raised those concerns. Our democracy can only thrive if we are open to a marketplace of ideas and engaging with people with whom we disagree,” Khanna wrote in a statement to Fox News.
In a letter from Carl Szabo, of the research firm NetChoice, to Lauren Culbertson, Twitter’s then-head of public policy, Szabo said his firm met with nine Republican and three Democratic House staffers to gather intelligence about Facebook and Twitter and the Biden story.
Some figures on Capitol Hill referred to the laptop story as “tech’s Access Hollywood moment,” appearing to refer to the television entertainment show in which Trump was heard on an audio recording making degrading remarks about women.
In his letter, Szabo said Democrats complained that the social media companies let Republicans “muddy the water and made Biden look corrupt despite him being innocent.” They were also in agreement that social media needs to moderate for harmful content more often.
“When pushed on how the government might insist on that, consistent with the First Amendment, they demurred: the First Amendment isn’t absolute,'” the letter said.
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.