Finally, something interesting came from the Twitter Files

Eight installments into the so-called "Twitter Files," and The Intercept's Lee Fang finally revealed something that was actually noteworthy: Twitter played an active and willing role in aiding the US military's propaganda operations in Arab-speaking countries.

Fang went more in depth on the subject for an article on The Intercept:

The social networking giant provided direct approval and internal protection to the U.S. military's network of social media accounts and online personas, whitelisting a batch of accounts at the request of the government. The Pentagon has used this network, which includes U.S. government-generated news portals and memes, in an effort to shape opinion in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, and beyond.

The accounts in question started out openly affiliated with the U.S. government. But then the Pentagon appeared to shift tactics and began concealing its affiliation with some of these accounts — a move toward the type of intentional platform manipulation that Twitter has publicly opposed. Though Twitter executives maintained awareness of the accounts, they did not shut them down, but let them remain active for years. Some remain active.

Fang also provided the most details and transparency thus far of any of the writers given access to the "Twitter Files" (Weiss, Taibbi, et al), regarding what, exactly, this access entailed:

Twitter did not provide unfettered access to company information; rather, for three days last week, they allowed me to make requests without restriction that were then fulfilled on my behalf by an attorney, meaning that the search results may not have been exhaustive. I did not agree to any conditions governing the use of the documents, and I made efforts to authenticate and contextualize the documents through further reporting. The redactions in the embedded documents in this story were done by The Intercept to protect privacy, not Twitter.

This context implies a much clearer picture of the whole situation. Elon Musk hand-selected a few writers he believed would be sympathetic to his cause, and allowed them to make requests to search through the company's data archives. It's telling, then, that the earliest installments of the "Twitter Files" were not in fact full and comprehensive pictures of what they contained, but rather, selective searches for things related to high-interest controversies such as the Hunter Biden laptop story, or the banning of Donald Trump. In both of those cases, the files largely revealed … high-level employees at the company deliberating about difficult decisions, mostly good faith.

To be clear, I'm not endorsing the decisions those employees ultimately made; nor am I saying that the way in which the company created rules, and attempted to moderate them, was not without flaw. I just failed to see anything particularly scandalous in any of the revelations. Consider the greatest panic of the "Twitter Files" —

Was I surprised to learn that a former FBI counsel was now a high-ranking legal counsel at Twitter? Not particularly. Do I like it? Not particularly. But I also understand that people change jobs, and that having the FBI on your resume in any capacity is probably attractive to a lot of recruiters. Unlike Taibbi, however, I was not surprised to learn that Twitter's top lawyer was trying to review the files before their release. Could it be that he's still secretly working for the FBI? I mean, sure. Or, could it be that he's a lawyer, and was trying to shield the company from releasing any information that could lead to a potential lawsuit? That latter option is much more likely.

Similarly, writer Michael Shellenberger's installment of the Twitter Files revealed that the FBI frequently requested information from the company, and that the company would … willingly comply, unless they were concerned about legality.

Again: do I like the fact that Twitter (or any entity) cooperates so willingly with the FBI? Not at all. Am I surprised? Also not at all! And based on the emails provided, this seemed like Twitter was in fact doing their due diligence by refusing to hand over certain data without a warrant, which is a positive for the company. Again, I'm not surprised that the FBI (or any law enforcement organization, for that matter) would try to get as much as they could without going through any formal legal channels. And again, I hate it! But it's hardly scandalous.

If anything, Shellenberger's thread on the Twitter Files revealed just how banal and bureaucratic a lot of the FBI's worst behaviors are. It's not that they deliberately tricked Twitter employees into getting them to censor the Hunter Biden laptop story. Instead, the FBI was being overly-vigilant to a fault, because they believe themselves to be morally righteous centrist crusaders. After the multi-pronged disaster of Russian hacking and email leaks during the 2016 election cycle, the Bureau was over-correcting — likely in a good faith effort to not repeat their mistakes! In this case, however — as Shellenberger's thread does reveal — the Bureau had little to no evidence to suggest that Russian agents were involved in similar schemes during the 2020 elections. Yet they were still being hyper-paranoid about the potential of such a problem … and as a result, caused even more problems for themselves. This is how it tends to go with the FBI: they are zealots for the Good Centrist Power Structure, and in their efforts to maintain that system at any cost, they tend to make things worse.

In other words: the only scandal is the existence of the FBI. This, however, is not what Taibbi, et al seem to believe:

Ah, yes, the FBI: a department historically known for its high standards in keeping everything above-the-board, and definitely never investigated Blacks or Native Americans or Muslims or Communists or Labor Activists for the mere crime of existing!

All that being said, Twitter willingly playing a propaganda role for the US military is a uniquely bad public-private partnership.

Twitter aided the Pentagon in its covert online propaganda campaign [Lee Fang / The Intercept]