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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Ro Khanna had no clue he’d star in Musk’s ‘Twitter Files’

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Monday! Boy were we glad this weekend we don’t publish on Saturday mornings. Send tips to: cristiano.lima@washpost.com.

Below: Experts sound a warning about antisemitism on Twitter, and Sam Bankman-Fried says he’ll testify before Congress. First:

Khanna had no clue he’d star in Musk’s ‘Twitter Files’

When Elon Musk announced Friday afternoon that he planned to reveal what “really happened with the Hunter Biden story suppression by Twitter,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) had no idea he’d be a part of the plot.

Four hours later, emails from Khanna to former Twitter executive Vijaya Gadde voicing concern about the company restricting a controversial New York Post article were featured in a thread by Substack writer Matt Taibbi on the so-called “Twitter Files,” which Musk had billed as the true tale of “free speech suppression” at the company. 

“I found out when I suddenly had 208 emails in my inbox. I said, ‘What’s going on?’” Khanna told me Sunday, two days after his personal email had been published in a screenshot that was part Taibbi’s Twitter stream of internal documents. 

Khanna said he was unbothered by the disclosure, calling it a “minor inconvenience,” though he’s since “taken provisions” to secure his email account. 

“I always give the journalist the benefit of the doubt, and I think the more important issue here is how do we make sure that platforms like Twitter, which are effectively now the public sphere, have uninhibited, robust, wide-open discussion,” Khanna said.

He quipped that it was a “relief” the private message of his that leaked was one he still stood by: advocating against Twitter’s decision to limit the circulation of the New York Post article about then presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son. “We’ve all written things that we may not love when we see them years later, so relief that the email expressed basically what I would express today,” he said of his reaction. 

But Khanna joined a number of former Twitter leaders in voicing concern that Taibbi’s thread included the contact information of some lower-level Twitter staffers.

“People who are junior and mid-level staff, you should try to keep them out of it in terms of their contact or personal information,” he said. 

Khanna’s email to Twitter, which argued the company was violating “1st Amendment principles” by restricting access to the New York Post article, has since been celebrated online by conservatives critical of the company — and by Musk

While the disclosures contained no evidence that the social network limited the circulation of the piece at the behest of Democratic politicians, Republican officials and Musk have seized on one screenshot purportedly showing Twitter staffers reviewing posts flagged by Biden’s campaign. House Republicans have vowed to investigate the exchange next year. 

Khanna disagreed with Twitter’s decision on the article, but he said that finding was no smoking gun — and he’s seen no evidence of inappropriate pressure from Biden’s team. 

“That’s the Biden campaign’s First Amendment right to flag tweets, and campaigns do that all the time, to flag things that they think are violating platform’s policies. … I haven’t seen anything that they were being unduly pressured by a government actor, the Biden campaign, in any way that would be inappropriate,” he said. 

In his thread, Taibbi said he’d seen “no evidence … of any government involvement in the laptop story.”  And he said that in 2020, “requests [to review or remove content] from both the Trump White House and the Biden campaign were received and honored.” 

While a growing number of his Democratic colleagues have voiced concern about Twitter’s direction under Musk, Khanna said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach. 

“He said that he’s against hate and sensationalizing hate, so I hope that gets implemented and we have to see what [Musk’s] team is going to be, what the principles are going to be,” said Khanna, who said he’s spoken twice to Musk, who has a Tesla factory in his congressional district.

He added, “I respect him as a brilliant entrepreneur and innovator, but also have been very candid on issues where we disagree.”

Our top tabs

House GOP seizes on Musk’s ‘Twitter Files’ as fodder for probes

House Republicans are vowing to investigate the disclosures of internal Twitter communications regarding its handling of the New York Post article on Hunter Biden, including by raising the specter of hauling in current and former staffers named in the documents.

“In January … I can promise you this, every employee at Twitter who was involved in suppressing the Hunter Biden laptop story will have an opportunity to come before Congress and explain their actions to the American people,” Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), who is likely to chair the House Oversight Committee after Republicans take control of the chamber in January told Fox News on Friday.  

Comer also said House Republicans will be pushing for information about tech companies’ communications with federal officials since President Biden took office. Asked about the prospect of issuing subpoenas for federal officials to testify on the matter, Comer replied, “We’re going to do everything we can to get to the truth. We believe that Elon Musk has a lot of evidence.” Republicans also raised the prospect of upping the pressure on other tech companies for internal communications. Here’s Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.):

Experts warn that antisemitism on Twitter is uniting extremists

Current and former officials predict that Twitter will contribute to violence in the coming months, with the officials “citing the proliferation of extreme content, including support for genocidal Nazis by celebrities with wide followings and the reemergence of QAnon proselytizers and white nationalists,” Joseph Menn writes

Musk has announced a broad amnesty for previously banned accounts, and he has interacted with white nationalists on the site in recent weeks. A new wave of antisemitism “has reached millions of people in just days, brought new followers, and helped galvanize a broader coalition of fringe figures,” Menn writes.

Harassment also took center stage after Taibbi wrote about the “Twitter Files” in a Friday thread, Cat Zakrzewski and Faiz Siddiqui report. An online mob threatened the Twitter workers named in those communications; their photos were also circulated online. “Publicly posting the names and identities of front-line employees involved in content moderation puts them in harm’s way and is a fundamentally unacceptable thing to do,” former Twitter Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth, one of the employees named in the tweets, wrote in a social media post.

Bankman-Fried says he’ll testify before Congress, but timing is unclear

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried said in a tweet addressed to House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and her committee that he “will testify” when he has “finished learning and reviewing what happened” to the cryptocurrency exchange he founded and subsequently resigned from last month as it filed for bankruptcy protection.

But Bankman-Fried acknowledged that he may not testify at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on the collapse scheduled for Dec. 13, writing that he’s “not sure that will happen by the 13th.”

Bankman-Fried’s potential testimony comes as federal regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department investigate its collapse. 

Inside the industry

Tech layoffs wallop H-1B visa holders: ‘It’s not just dollars and a job. It’s our entire life’ (San Francisco Chronicle)

New Zealand plans law to require Facebook, Google to pay for news (Reuters)

Clashes over FTX bankruptcy go global (Wall Street Journal)

Workforce report

Activision Blizzard game testers vote to form union (Reuters)

Trending

Reddit users turn Kanye West’s page into a Holocaust-awareness forum (Justine McDaniel)

Daybook

  • Sorelle Friedler, the assistant director for data and democracy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, discusses OSTP’s Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights at a Brookings Institution event today at 2 p.m.
  • Undersecretary of Commerce Alan Estevez speaks at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event on AI and export controls on Tuesday at 1 p.m.
  • The Atlantic Council hosts an event on 21st century tools for diplomacy, like technology, on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
  • On Tuesday at noon, join me for a Future of Speech Online panel I'm moderating on free expression cases at the Supreme Court. The three-day event is hosted by the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Stand Together Trust.

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