Recently an anonymous user using the nickname FreeSpeechEnthusiast published part of Twitter’s source code on GitHub.
At Twitter’s request, Microsoft (which owns GitHub) has since removed the repository on which FreeSpeechEnthusiast had made that code public.
The nickname chosen clearly refers to the narrative ushered in by Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, who claimed that with his intervention, freedom of speech would be restored on Twitter.
Musk himself has stated several times that he is an “absolutist of free speech,” and FreeSpeechEnthusiast with this gesture probably wanted to demonstrate what absolutism means when it comes to free speech.
The source code consists of text, so FreeSpeechEnthusiast has done nothing more than take the liberty of making public text owned by Twitter, thus violating laws.
It is therefore no coincidence that Twitter asked for its removal, and that Microsoft decided to remove it.
In fact at this time the FreeSpeechEnthusiast/PublicSpace repository appears to be blocked due to a DMCA complaint, while the text of the removal request appears to be available.
This request states that Twitter is the copyright holder of that code, and that it was proprietary source code for Twitter’s internal platform and tools.
It is unclear whether before the removal someone managed to download the code, and make it available on other platforms. It is also unclear how long that code was public.
The search for the author
The company did not just ask Microsoft to remove the code, but also filed a petition with the Northern California District Court requesting its removal from GitHub.
It also asked for the name, address, phone number, e-mail address, social profiles and IP address of the FreeSpeechEnthusiast user to try to find the person responsible for this violation.
A New York Times article reveals that an internal Twitter investigation suggested that those responsible for the incident may be former employees who left the company last year, when Musk took the reins by laying off large numbers of staff.
The company’s executives would have learned of the existence of that code on GitHub only recently, so it is plausible that it remained public for months.
Incidentally, Elon Musk himself announced a few days ago that some of Twitter’s code will be made public at the end of the month.
Twitter will open source all code used to recommend tweets on March 31st
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 17, 2023
In this case it is the portion of code that is used by the platform to recommend tweets to users on the home page, but it is not known whether the one published on GitHub by FreeSpeechEnthusiast is the same. However, it is conceivable that it was a different portion of code.
The open source Twitter code
In and of itself, public code (open source) has numerous advantages.
However, for a company that uses code as a competitive advantage, it is not a good thing at all to make it public.
In fact, a public code can be copied by anyone, even competitors, and since Twitter is investing heavily in improving its source code, it would make no sense to give it away to competitors.
Therefore, what FreeSpeechEnthusiast has done is effectively theft of intellectual property, aggravated by releasing it without the owner’s consent.
True open source code is that which is made public directly by the owner, for example, to make it usable by anyone. This is how, for example, Satoshi Nakamoto made Bitcoin usable by anyone.
In fact, Nakamoto’s code has been used countless times to create Bitcoin clones, though most of these have inevitably ended up in oblivion afterwards.
As for Twitter, it would be detrimental to give the code away to competitors, because unlike Bitcoin, competitors could use it to harm Twitter.
By contrast, the failure of Bitcoin clones has only favored BTC, because it has shown that there is only one Bitcoin, and there can only ever be one.