A debate over links to nude photos of the president’s son Hunter Biden is now part of the congressional record, thanks to a Republican congressman grilling former Twitter executives about supposedly politically motivated censorship at the social media site.
Twitter removed links to the photos of Hunter Biden after then-candidate Joe Biden’s campaign flagged them to the company, according to the “Twitter Files,” new Twitter owner Elon Musk’s effort to release internal company documents to select journalists.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) displayed the web addresses for the photos on a large poster board as he questioned former Twitter executives during a hearing of the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday. The hearing was part of Republicans’ efforts to use their new House majority to muscle the Biden family and “big tech.”
Donalds grilled the witnesses about the back-and-forth between Democratic campaign officials and Twitter corporate, including an email that featured a list of tweets and the note, “More to review from the Biden team.” One witness noted that the links being discussed went to nude photos of the president’s son.
“Do you know how many tweets were actually flagged and taken down at the behest of the Biden team?” Donalds asked Yoel Roth, who was Twitter’s head of trust and safety until Musk took over the company.
“I wouldn’t agree with the characterization of it as being at the ‘behest’ of them,” Roth replied. “These tweets were reported, and Twitter independently evaluated them under its rules.”
Donalds cut off Roth, arguing the email was clear. The Biden team had flagged the tweets for review. And three hours later, he noted, someone at Twitter had written, “handled these.”
Roth injected some much-needed context: “My understanding is that these tweets contained non-consensual nude photos of Hunter Biden,” he said. “And they were removed by the company under our terms of service.”
Donalds, seemingly a bit flustered, continued. “How can you know so much about the content of these tweets?” he asked. “As far as I’m concerned, these are just web addresses! I don’t know what’s in these tweets.”
He pushed for details of Roth’s connections to the Biden team, and Roth said, again, that he didn’t deal with the campaign during his time at Twitter.
Roth didn’t need any inside information to know that the tweet Donalds had blown up on a posterboard contained nudes of the president’s son.
That’s been relatively common knowledge since December, when independent journalist Matt Taibbi published the email record, including the tweet URLs, after Musk gave him access to the documents. The Internet Archive, which records URL histories, showed as much as soon as Taibbi revealed the email. Mother Jones traced the URLs to an apparent network of Twitter users connected to Steve Bannon ally Guo Wengui.
Taibbi, for his part, defended publishing the link addresses because, he argued, they showed the Biden family’s sway at Twitter. He told Mother Jones at the time, “Do you really think just any person can pick up the phone, dial a Twitter exec…and instantly get their dick picks taken off Twitter?”